News broke Tuesday that Dustin Pedroia and the Red Sox had reached a 7-year extension worth $100 million, essentially an 8-year, $110 million deal when factoring in the remaining guaranteed season on his previous 6-year, $40.5 million contract. That means, beginning next season, the All-Star second baseman will earn an average of $13.75 million per year through the 2021 season, at which time he’ll be 38 years old.
Claim if you’d like that he’s over-termed. I won’t disagree. But if you think he’s overpaid, or even fairly compensated, you’re crazy, unless you’d like to argue the extra couple of years offset the below-market annual average. Plain and simple, the future Sox captain has once again taken a team-friendly deal, and I love it.
The game of baseball is one driven by statistics and comparables, whether across the game, by position, or within one’s own clubhouse. For every player who’s unjustly overpaid – something that happens quite often in an uncapped league, by the way – it only tends to elevate the bar for others in the future. In other words, one man’s absurdity gives another justification.
The five highest-paid second basemen in Major League Baseball this season are the Phillies’ Chase Utley ($15.29M), Robinson Cano of the Yankees ($15M), the Braves’ Dan Uggla ($13.15M), Ian Kinsler of the Rangers ($13M), and the Brewers’ Rickie Weeks ($11M). Pedroia checks in sixth at $10.25M.
In just a few months, Cano will top that list with what will undoubtedly be at least a $20 million annual salary, and some believe it could approach $25 million. When he signs the megadeal, he’ll be 31 and instantly rank among the highest-paid players in the sport, regardless of position. The Bombers star and perennial All-Star does it all: he hits for power and average, gets on base, rarely strikes out, and plays above-average defense. Plus, he’s durable. Fair or unfair, anyone would remark that Cano sets the bar for the position. That is to say if you give credence to a bar existing in these discussions, which I do.
It is for that reason, many feel, that it became so important for Boston to lock up Pedroia long-term, even with two years left on his deal. Pedroia would never have vaulted or even reached that bar, but his agents may have wished to sniff it, and I believe other teams on the open market may have entertained that notion.
Consider some of their career comparables, based on full-season averages: Batting average (Cano, .308 to .303), on-base percentage (Pedroia, .371 to .354), slugging percentage (Cano, .505 to .457), OPS (Cano, .859 to .828), home runs (Cano, 24 to 16), runs batted in (Cano, 97 to 79), walks (Pedroia, 68 to 41), strikeouts (Pedroia, 64 to 82), and – for the new-age number-crunchers – WAR per game (Pedroia, .038 to .032). Also, Pedroia is the superior defender.
I’m not saying Pedroia deserves the type of contract Cano will receive; he doesn’t. Cano is unquestionably the better all-around player, particularly if that is measured in stats alone. I am saying that in most circles Pedroia is not being given proper credit for his economic worth.
We’ll never know now if the future career Red Sox star could have earned $20 million annually on the open market, or close to it – say, $16-18M – but I firmly believe that money would have been available to him if healthy, and I say that with the realization that careers rarely improve after the age of 30.
Often times, it takes one good season in your walk-year. Uggla – who generally stinks, by the way – cashed in with the Braves to the tune of 5 years and $62 million in 2011 at the age of 31 following a career-year in 2010 with the Marlins. Even then, he wasn’t nearly the player Pedroia is, long-balls aside, and he was older.
Kinsler got his 5-year, $75 million extension in 2012 after a bounce-back campaign for the Rangers. He was almost 30, just like Pedroia, who has again been the better player year-in and year-out.
As for the others, the 34-year-old Utley’s proven to be injury-prone since inking his deal and Weeks was gifted a contract that his numbers could not begin to support. Advantage Pedroia over Weeks, though not Utley in his prime.
If you’d like to go beyond the realm of position and look inside Pedroia’s clubhouse, Shane Victorino is the only position player in his price-range. The outfielder inked a laughably-high 3-year, $39 million contract with the Red Sox last winter at the age of 32 and coming off of a career-worst season. While his occasionally-healthy performance has been a pleasant surprise this year, everyone knows Victorino is overpaid. Now, the two will have similar annual salaries, the biggest difference obviously being the length of the deals. Pedroia would have done better in free agency.
I’ve also heard a number of times in recent days, “Derek Jeter never made $20 million in a season, and so how in the world could Pedroia?” That argument is absurd. Ignoring that the two men have remarkably similar career averages in several prominent categories – yes, I realize Jeter has done it for a decade longer – one thing important to note is that the Yankee captain signed a 10-year extension worth $189 million in 2001, when he was 27. If everything was equal, but it was a dozen years later, that number would be $250 million, without a doubt.
The position players who make $20 million per year – Alex Rodriguez, Vernon Wells, Mark Teixeira, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Ryan Howard – are mostly power guys, Mauer and Crawford aside. Now, obviously Crawford never belonged on that list in the first place (a Red Sox blunder), but Mauer is no mistake. In fact, I believe it’s a sign of things to come in the years ahead.
Leaving out pitchers, old-school baseball thinking as it pertains to handing out big money focuses on power hitters and the importance of batting orders, but the new-school approach is centered on value. That may very well come in the form of power, but it could also be the sheer ability to get on base with regularity, drive in runs, play solid defense, or any number of other things to help determine a player’s merit. It’s no longer, “How many home runs did he slug and can we bat him clean-up?”
With eight seasons now remaining on his deal, it’s a certainty that Pedroia will decline eventually, and he may even be a shell of himself in those final few years, as much as we all hope not. The Red Sox handed him this contract in spite of that fact, knowing his work-ethic and commitment to the organization will never fade (I’m looking at you, Josh Beckett). To his credit, as those years approach, Pedroia is not a guy made successful by power and speed. While his defense will inevitably sink to the norm, he’ll still likely hit for contact, draw walks, and score runs. The possibility of him resembling Craig Biggio isn’t an outlandish one to consider, either, and the career-Astros star will one day be a Hall of Famer. Someday, Pedroia will have his number 15 prominently displayed between Jim Rice and Carlton Fisk on the right field façade.
You don’t need me to go on and on detailing why Pedroia’s deal is the best news since the Patrice Bergeron extension because others have already done that, and the reasons are the same. He’s a home-grown talent who has won a truckload of league and team accolades, but he is beloved just as much for what he means to the city and the culture of his club. Perhaps more so for his one-liners. Best of all, he has an appreciation for the expectations associated with performing on a stage few can handle.
Heart and soul. Face of the team. Intangibles that don’t show up along with the gaudy numbers in the box scores.
And, if Dustin Pedroia had wanted to, he would have had a legit chance to earn more money elsewhere in a couple of years. But he chose here, a place where his value is higher than anywhere else and he still took less to stay.
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About this blog
Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.
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