If Bill Belichick were running the Red Sox, I think we all know what he would do: He would have started playing Mookie Betts at second base days ago, and he would at least explore the value of Dustin Pedroia on the trade market.
So shouldn’t the Red Sox at least be considering it?
Baseball and football are two very different worlds, of course, the most notable variable coming in the form of fully guaranteed money. Baseball has it. Football does not. But you get the idea. With the acquisitions of Yoenis Cespedes, Allen Craig, and Rusney Castillo, the Red Sox now have a seeming logjam of outfielders. Castillo, specifically, seems earmarked for center field. Those three join a list of players that include Daniel Nava, Shane Victorino, Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley and Betts, some of whom may be trade bait, some of whom backups, some collateral damage.
Meanwhile, Betts is now doing what Bradley never really did at the big league level: hit – and with authority. With last night’s 3-for-5 effort, Betts increased his slash line to .284/.358/.474/.832, showing the kind of hands and bat speed that warrant attention. And though Betts’ outfield play has already improved – he made a nice catch in deep center field last night, albeit in a more difficult manner than necessary – moving him back to second base would give the Red Sox the greatest amount of flexibility.
Of course, second base is where Pedroia has played for the last eight seasons – and presumably will play for much of the next seven. Last year, the Red Sox signed Pedroia to an eight-year, $110-million contract that began this season, a deal worth an average of $13.75 million through 2021.
Here’s the problem: this year, for the fourth straight year, Pedroia’s slugging percentage has dropped – in this case, to a paltry .379 that is the lowest since he first reached the big leagues at the end of the 2006 season. Over the last four years, Pedroia’s OPS has gone from .861 to .797 to .787 to .720, which even Logan Mankins would admit is a pattern of decline.
Late in the 2016 season, Pedroia will become the dreaded 10-5 man – a player with 10 years of major league service, the most recent five (or more) with the same team. That would grant him the power to veto trade. If the Red Sox were ever to consider trading him without his approval, now would be the time to do it, even as Pedroia temporarily sits with concussion-like symptoms following a weekend mishap against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Over the last several weeks, Pedroia has admittedly started to look more like his younger self. In his last 33 games, he has batted .314 with a .423 slugging percentage and .771 OPS. He remains a gritty competitor and an excellent defensive player, and his current deal hardly makes him a financial burden for a team with one of the biggest payrolls in the game.
That said, Pedroia also appears to be a diminishing asset, something that should be of concern to the Red Sox given the obvious needs on their pitching staff. If the Red Sox are going to stabilize their staff with veteran arms from the free-agent or trade markets, they will have to pay for it. And paying someone like Betts in the hundreds of thousands might be a far better option than paying Pedroia in the millions, even if the Sox have to eat a chunk of Pedroia’s remaining salary in a deal.
Incredible, right? We all love Pedroia. And yet, the fact remains that if the Red Sox wanted to trade him today, the term of his contract would make him largely immovable. And that might be true even if the Red Sox ate money.
Not so long ago, Red Sox owner John Henry repeated his desire to run the Red Sox just like the Patriots, who have coldly cut ties with, among others, Mankins, Richard Seymour, Mike Vrabel and others in recent years. Now, with Jimmy Garoppolo’s stock rapidly on the rise and Tom Brady due for a pay cut, the Patriots might even be bracing for a conflict with their franchise quarterback. The message, once again, is that Belichick and Robert Kraft run the Patriots, not necessarily in that order, and there are no scared cows beneath the Hall-of-Fame coach in Foxboro.
If the same were to be true at Fenway Park, why should Dustin Pedroia be called safe?