Friday, July 26, 2013

Why Pedroia's Worth It

Pedroia will be a fixture with Boston for the remainder of the decade
The Boston Red Sox didn't have much luck with its large investments throughout Theo Epstein's regime. Daisuke Matsuzaka gave the team just two quality seasons before breaking down. Julio Lugo and Carl Crawford were massive busts. J.D. Drew disappointed. John Lackey is just starting to earn his keep in Year 4 of his five year deal.

It was not surprising, then, that Epstein's successor, Ben Cherington, avoided such lavish commitments like the plague during his first two years on the job. He wisely refrained from throwing money at pricey free agents like Jose Reyes, Zack Greinke, and Josh Hamilton. Instead, his claim to fame was dumping more than a quarter billion dollars worth of salary on the Los Angeles Dodgers in the form of Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto. When tasked with reloading his roster for 2013, he sidestepped baseball's biggest names in favor of handing out smaller, midlevel deals to Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, and Mike Napoli.

But now, perhaps emboldened by his club's success, Cherington felt the time was right to lock up the smallest franchise player around; Dustin Pedroia. Pedroia, who's enjoying another stellar season and just made his fourth All-Star team, was under contract through next year and had a (now guaranteed) club option for 2015. His new deal--which includes a full no-trade clause--ensures that he will remain in a Red Sox uniform through the 2021 season. It also guarantees that he'll add more than $100 million to his already sizable bank account.

It's hard to think of a player more deserving of a nine figure contract than Pedroia, who in many ways is the Red Sox equivalent of Derek Jeter. The sparkplug second baseman has been a fan favorite since 2007, when he took home AL Rookie of the Year honors and helped lead Boston to its second World Series title of the new millennium. The following year he was named the league's Most Valuable Player after leading all players in hits and doubles, propelling the defending champs to within one game of another World Series berth.

Since then, he's maintained his status as one of the game's best second baseman. A career .303 hitter with good power (only Robinson Cano has more doubles since Opening Day, 2007) and a keen batting eye (more walks than strikeouts for his career), he also boasts a pair of Gold Glove awards and four seasons with at least 20 steals. For all his physical limitations, there's nothing he can't do on the ballfield.

Because of his superior hitting, baserunning, and defense at a premium position, Pedroia is a very valuable baseball player. Even when he's hurt, as he was in 2010 when he played just 75 games and again in 2012 (when he bravely gritted through a dislocated thumb during a lost season) he provided 3.2 and 4.9 bWAR, respectively. When healthy, he puts up MVP-caliber numbers that merit his salary and then some. With Cano set to score a payday in the neighborhood of $200 million, Pedroia's contract will look like a massive bargain by comparison.

His contributions don't stop there, though. No analysis of Pedroia's value is complete without mentioning what he brings to the table off the field, namely toughness, confidence, and a winning attitude. Along with David Ortiz, he's a team leader and positive clubhouse presence who plays hard everyday. The Red Sox need not worry about their face of the franchise becoming complacent in the wake of his new financial security; his competitive drive and fiery nature would never allow it.

I think this deal is going to work out great for the Bosox, even though second basemen tend to not age well. Like Chase Utley, he's so good that that he'll still be above average even as he gets older and breaks down. My real concern is that Pedroia puts himself at risk with his all-out playing style as well as his insistence on grinding through injuries. He beats up his body, but hopefully he'll learn to tone it down a bit with age. Otherwise, he's going to learn the hard way in his 30s, when his muscles and bones become less forgiving.

Still, it's comforting to know he'll still be here eight years from now, probably as the team captain, long after Big Papi hangs up his spikes and Jacoby Ellsbury moves on. He's not going anywhere.

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