Dustin Pedroia’s wonderful life as Red Sox player could be nearing its end

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after missing the ball in the fifth inning at Fenway Park on April 11, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley /Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 11: Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox reacts after missing the ball in the fifth inning at Fenway Park on April 11, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley /Getty Images) /

Dustin Pedroia’s 13+ seasons with the Red Sox have at times been unlucky, but his many achievements and honors far outweigh the downers

If you’re among the few Boston Red Sox fans who’ve never seen the classic tears-of-joy flick ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart (although Dana Carvey nails him in a historically, hysterically funny Saturday Night Live spoof), then it’s time for you to catch up before another Christmas holiday season passes you by.

Most of us know the story of George Bailey as the industrious, eternally optimistic son, brother, husband, dad and Good Samaritan savings and loan officer who’s always sacrificing, putting other people’s needs before his. That’s until he reaches his breaking point one Christmas Eve, when scatterbrained Uncle Billy loses $8,000 of his nephew’s company funds instead of depositing it at the bank.

Facing bankruptcy and scandal, George spirals down into a state of despair and despondency, contemplating how life would be so much better for everyone had he never been born. That’s when Clarence, George’s angel, shows up. He rescues George and restores his zest for life. Clarence does this by showing George how tragic life in Bedford Falls and for his family would have been without him around to bail out so many people in so many ways. George ultimately discovers he is indeed a rich man. A bell rings, and an angel gets his wings.

OK, it’s a bit of a stretch, but this brings us to Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia as he contemplates the 2020 season and what likely will be his last hurrah with the Red Sox and as an MLB player. That’s assuming he makes it to spring training and answers the bell with knees healthy enough to get him through February and March, and then onto the Opening Day 26-man roster.

The chances of Pedroia breaking camp back in his familiar spot as the Red Sox starting second baseman are slim to none. And if he’s not starting, Pedroia wouldn’t cut it as a utility player. It’s a role that requires a reserve infielder to be able to play at least three positions, and maybe even fill in as a corner outfielder in a pinch. No way the Red Sox put a 36-year-old Pedroia in the outfield, the present-day equivalent of, say, letting Steven Wright pinch run.

As for the infield side of a utility player’s responsibilities, that seems better suited for the recently-signed Jose Peraza. Peraza is just 26; has experience playing second, shortstop, and the outfield (presumably he could also play third); has some pop in his bat; and can swipe bases (67 total steals from 2016-18). Pedroia’s stealing-bases days are toast, and the extra range needed to play shortstop vs. second base is a bridge too far for the diminutive but scrappy second sacker. And how many 5-foot-7 guys (officially listed as 5-9, though) do you see playing first base, even as a backup? Maybe he could DH? That job’s taken, per J.D. Martinez.

So where does that leave Pedroia on the eve of 2020? Just this past August he underwent joint-preservation surgery on his left knee. That was about 10 weeks after he announced that he was suspending his team-supervised knee rehab and returning home to Arizona to evaluate his future, saying “I’m not sure” when asked if he would ever play again.

So it was that Pedroia’s 2019 season ended with his having played in six games. The one bright spot was that that was twice the number of games he had played in 2018, when the Red Sox roared to 108 regular-season wins and a World Championship.

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There’s no sense in rehashing all of Pedroia’s injury details, even if we go back to just 2015. Suffice it to say that the Red Sox have seen plenty of what life is like without Pedroia – reaching the mountaintop in 2018, followed by a tumble down the hill a season later. It’s a mixed bag, but let’s not forget his 2007 AL Rookie of the Year Award, 2008 MVP Award, four All-Star selections and four Gold Gloves. It’s been a wonderful baseball life.

Without Pedroia playing regularly in 2007 and 2013, it’s conceivable the Red Sox would not have won World Series titles either time. Had the ever-unpopular Manny Machado not taken out Pedroia with that rambunctious, spikes-up slide in April 2017 (this just six months after Pedroia had had a two-part knee surgery), he would likely still be Boston’s starting second baseman.

He’s tough enough. Remember when Pedroia in 2010 practiced fielding grounders while on his knees despite a broken bone in his foot that had put him on the 15-day DL? Or how in 2012 he played a season-ending series against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium with a broken left ring finger? Or how he played the entire 2013 season with a torn UCL in his thumb, the result of a kamikaze slide into first base? There’s more of that, too.

MLB’s expansion of rosters to 26 starting in 2020 could be Pedroia’s saving grace, although the Red Sox likely will instead use that extra spot to add an arm to a bullpen that was heavily taxed in 2019. That could happen again if starters Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi (and David Price, if he’s not traded away first) don’t show considerable improvement in terms of how deep they can pitch into games. That assumes, too, that Eduardo Rodriguez can at least maintain his sterling 2019 performance.

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So, we are left pondering what the Sox will be like without Pedroia, once he is no longer a member of the team or trying to work his way back, whether it’s this year or 2021, the last year of his eight-year contract. George Bailey’s tale of an almost-lost holiday season had a happy ending. What will Dustin Pedroia’s final season look like?