There were some good things that happened in Boston sports on Monday. The Red Sox scored 12 runs and blew out the Cleveland Indians to go four games above .500. The Bruins were able to score four unanswered goals after being down 2-0 to go up 1-0 in the Stanley Cup finals. Alas, all was not well for Red Sox Nation. Bill Buckner passed away at the age of 69 from Lewy Body Dementia.
Piling on to the bad news was a press conference where Red Sox legend Dustin Pedroia announced he was taking a break from baseball due to his persistent knee problem, and that his future as a major leaguer is in doubt. Here we’ll cover Pedroia, with Buckner already having been covered in a previous article.
I remember Pedroia’s rookie season in 2007. It started not long after moving from my home state of New Jersey to the Boston area, where I have been ever since. I did not have MLB.tv back then to watch my Mets, so I frequently watched the Red Sox because they were always on and they were really good.
I’m sure Red Sox fans remember the frustration. Pedroia was hitting a paltry .182/.308/.236 at the end of April 2007. Even though the Sox were 16-8 with a four-game lead in the AL East, manager Terry Francona was facing a difficult decision: sit the struggling Pedroia in favor of, coincidentally, veteran Alex Cora, even though he had an established track record of not being able to hit, or trust the talent of the 23-year-old and not make big decisions after only 65 PA.
Since Francona is smart, he stuck with with Pedroia, and the rest was history. The Laser Show began, seeing him hit an incredible .415/.472/.600 in May, and finishing the year hitting .317/.380/.442 with 39 doubles. Things got even better for him at the end of the season when he got to be part of a World Series championship, followed by winning Rookie of the Year.
Pedroia truly became the player he was going to be the following year in 2008. His defense blossomed, and for a long time he was one of the best — in my opinion the best — defensive second basemen in baseball. He never had much of an arm, but you don’t need much of an arm at second base. His range and instincts, however, were outrageously good. In the nine seasons from 2008-2016, he finished the season with a double-digit DRS seven times.
Petey hit .326/.376/.493 in 2008, and while a 127 wRC+ is not exactly eye-popping, combining that with his above-average baserunning and elite second base defense made him worth 6.9 WAR that season. It led to him winning a well deserved MVP award.
Francona’s belief in Pedroia’s talent more than paid off. Pedroia became a top-20 position player in baseball over the next several years, and a case could be made that he was even better than that depending on how you rate his defense. As I alluded to earlier, I think VERY highly of Petey’s defense, so much so that I think DRS actually underrates him. His best year came in 2011, when he hit .307/.387/.474, which was good for a 133 wRC+ and 8.0 WAR. One could make the argument that Pedroia deserved to win his second MVP that year, but it was a pretty tight race at the top that saw Justin Verlander come out victorious.
Back to present day, and watching that press conference was painful. You could tell how much this hurt Pedroia. Even if he could not bring himself to say it, he seems to know that his career is over. Those familiar with his personality probably believe that he is too stubborn to admit defeat, and they might be right, but I don’t think that’s it. The Muddy Chicken isn’t a Spring Chicken anymore, as he will turn 36 in August, but it still has to hurt to go out like this. It makes me think about David Wright. I am fortunate to have a day job that I love, so I can’t imagine what it would feel like if it came to the point where I physically could not do it anymore.
If this is indeed the end for Pedroia, he has had an excellent career. He has a career line of .299/.365/.439 over 6,777 PA, and he was arguably the best defensive second baseman of his era. He won a Rookie of the Year, MVP, was part of three World Championship teams if you include 2018, and accumulated 51.7 WAR. It is hard to be the face of the Boston Red Sox with David Ortiz on the team, but he was a close second.
Fun fact: Ortiz barely edges out Pedroia in career WAR with the Red Sox at 52.7, but he played 441 more games! Of course, Pedroia’s postseason stats pale in comparison to that Ortiz, who was an all-time great in the postseason.
Another way that Pedroia reminds me of David Wright: they would both likely be surefire Hall of Famers if it were not for their injuries. Petey sadly does not have much of a Hall of Fame résumé, but it was a great Hall of Very Good career, and he should be incredibly proud. He is a lock for the Red Sox Hall of Fame, to be sure.
Pedroia’s current contract runs through 2021, so there is no way he going to officially retire before then. By the time it ends, the Red Sox will have paid him $56 million over the final four years of his current deal for what will likely total to be no more than the nine games he has played since the start of 2018.
Notice how I did not say they will be paying him for nothing. By the conclusion of the 2021 season, the Red Sox will have paid him $139 million over his entire career. Look at it this way: that is $139 million for a player that gave the team almost 52 WAR. That is outrageously good value, especially for a wealthy team like the Boston Red Sox.
If anything, he was woefully underpaid for his career. Had he not signed his first extension with the Red Sox after his MVP year, he would have become a free agent after the 2012 season. I do not fault him one bit for choosing to stay where he was happy, but he would have made way more money had he hit free agency. Think of the last four years of his contract as deferred money for being ludicrously underpaid early in his career.
If Pedroia decides to hang up his cleats, he can’t officially retire if he wants to collect the rest of the money on his contract. The Red Sox also will not even think of cutting a team icon. My guess is that they will find a front office role for him.
As someone who has watched Pedroia for his entire career, I was saddened by the news of his recent press conference, even though it was not surprising. I really loved watching him play, and I even have Pedroia shirsey lying around somewhere that I once got in a moment of sports bigamy. Dustin, it has been a pleasure to watch your entire career here Boston. If your number gets retired, and it deserves to be, my wife and I will be there for the ceremony.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.