BOSTON -- DUSTIN PEDROIA stood in front of his stall on Friday night, having just a few minutes earlier clinched another Red Sox win with a pretty, ranging play at second base, and fielded questions about his contract.
He referred reporters to the agent he’s entrusted with negotiations, and didn’t get into any real detail. But that coming on the heels of the team owner saying Pedroia might be a singular exception to the team’s evolving policy on long-term deals, plus multiple reports that a serious offer was presented to the player last week, and we needn’t yet see the fire to know what the smoke is telling us.
The Red Sox are going to sign Pedroia to a contract extension. Possibly soon. Probably for a ton of money. Potentially for the most money a second baseman has ever been annually paid.
And it will be a wise decision.
Reportedly the talks have focused on a deal worth somewhere around $100 million for five or six years, which on the surface seems a bit steep — particularly the Sox could do nothing now and still have Pedroia’s services for 2014 and ’15 at the bargain rate of $21 million total. The contract the Sox gave him in 2008 bought them that luxury in exchange for the team giving him long-term security, and typically they look to exercise those types of advantages in order to maximize value.
But in this case, if the Red Sox have already determined they want Pedroia to be a part of their club beyond the next couple of years, it makes sense to get a deal done. And to do it now. There’s no sense waiting if the decision has been made, because timing isn’t necessarily everything — but it’s absolutely a factor in a few of the five reasons this would make sense for the Sox:
Critics will question the wisdom of potentially paying $100 million to a No. 3 hitter who may not even hit his 100th career home run before the end of this season. (He entered Monday with 94.) But it’s not about power; it’s about the package.
With Pedroia, that includes not only a .304 lifetime average, but gold-glove caliber defense as well as plus baserunning, and when it’s all factored in he’s consistently one of the most valuable players in baseball. Every year in which he’s played at least 140 games he’s finished among the American League’s top 11 position players in wins above replacement (WAR), including second in ’08 and fourth in ’11.
This year, he ranked 12th in the majors through Sunday, and what’s notable there is that not a single player ranked ahead of him was acquired via veteran free agency. In other words, if a team wants a player of Pedroia’s impact, it’s not as easy as opening the checkbook.
So they’re smart to keep them while they can.
The Cano factor
As good as Pedroia is, Yankee Robinson Cano is the best second baseman in the game. When he is a free agent at the end of this season, he and new agent Jay-Z will be out to wring every penny out of the open market.
Obviously, if the Sox can get Pedroia locked up prior to that, Cano’s contract won’t become a benchmark for Boston’s negotiations. And maybe there’s another bonus to that factor, too.
If Pedroia winds up making $20 million per year, it probably pushes Cano’s starting price to nearer $25 million. At the least, it might force the Yankees to pony up more than they’d like — though maybe, considering the money it still owes to Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira, New York would play hardball. And maybe Cano would get his money elsewhere.
Pedroia turns 30 next month. So he’ll be 32 when his pre-existing deal expires. Again, if the Sox know they want him for 2016 and beyond, it’s sensible to give Pedroia his money now, so at least they’ve got a better chance of paying him like a star while he’s actually within his prime. There’s a greater chance of the team getting its moneys’ worth if the contract runs from age 30-35 than it would from 32-37.
Think about it this way: If the Sox give him a five-year deal that supersedes the contract in place, they’ll probably wind up paying Pedroia around $19 million more than they had to for the ’14 and ’15 seasons. However, that proves a solid investment if it saves from the risk of enduring two over-the-hill seasons, and paying roughly $40 million for it, when Pedroia is 36 and 37.
Perhaps the gaudy roundness of $20 million per year has blinded some people. But, in truth, that wouldn’t represent a dramatic overpayment for a player of Pedroia’s caliber.
This season, 20 players are making at least $18 million. Thirty are making $16 million or more. Including pitchers, Pedroia ranks 16th in WAR, and he’s consistently been in that class for almost six seasons. The going rate for that is pushing $20 million — especially for a Sox team that gleefully gave Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster all around $13 million a year last winter, despite being older and more limited as players.
Value to Red Sox
Among the most overblown storylines emanating from the Bobby Valentine era was the suggestion that Pedroia lost credibility as a leader by saying “that’s not how we do things around here” when the manager publicly chastised Kevin Youkilis. Pedroia was a leader then, he is a leader now. He’s accountable. He takes his job as seriously as anyone in the clubhouse. He is a player who teammates like. And he is someone whose example all should follow.
He’s an asset both on the field and off. And he openly embraces everything that entails. Let Carl Crawford be a lesson, and respect the value in knowing a player can handle Boston.
“This is all I know,” Pedroia said Friday. “These guys are my family. If it got to that point, it would be great.”
Yes, it would be.
Dave D’Onofrio covers the Red Sox for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.