As an undersized high school second baseman growing up in the suburbs of Boston, I have always had a soft spot in my heart for Dustin Pedroia. Ever since his rookie season with the Red Sox in 2007, his competitive drive and determination to prove his doubters wrong have proved to me that most perceived limitations, both physical and mental, are nothing more than excuses.
I do admit that I was initially among Pedroia’s many doubters. After he showed up overweight at the beginning of the 2007 season and batted .172 for the month of April, I was calling for him to be benched in favor of utility infielder Alex Cora.
But Pedroia was not to be denied. In search of guidance from a familiar voice, he reached out to Pat Murphy, his college coach. His final words were, “I’m about to put Red Sox Nation on my back.” And did he ever.
Hitting .417 over the next six weeks, Pedroia turned the tables on his critics and was on his way to establishing himself as a staple at the No. 2 spot in the Red Sox lineup. He finished his rookie season with a .317/.380/.442 line in just under 600 plate appearances on his way to the Rookie of the Year award and a World Series ring.
Prior to the 2008 campaign, Pedroia transformed his body, losing 25 pounds off of his 5-foot-8 frame. As it has his entire life, his hard work paid off. He finished the season .326/.376/.439 in 726 plate appearances and led the American League in hits (213), doubles (54) and runs (118). He mashed 17 home runs and stole 20 bases, being caught stealing only once. His stellar season earned him American League MVP and a Gold Glove Award.
At the age of 24, Pedroia was already one of only eight players in major league history to have won Rookie of the Year, MVP, a Gold Glove, and a World Series. And yet, after the 2008 season, he signed one of the most team-friendly contracts in recent memory, agreeing to a six-year extension worth $40.5 million, an average annual value of $6.75 million.
Four and a half seasons later, the Red Sox announced that they were in discussions with Pedroia’s agent about another possible contract extension. There was much speculation about how much the deal would be worth, with initial reports indicating that it could be as high as $20 million per year.
So how much is Pedroia actually worth?
Since the beginning of his rookie season through today, Pedroia has been worth exactly 33 Wins Above Replacement. This statistic ranks seventh in the major leagues over this time span. Interestingly, the player with the WAR total closest to Pedroia over that period is his second base counterpart on the rival Yankees, Robinson Cano. Cano has totaled 32.4 WAR, and is expected to get somewhere in the range of seven years, $150 million in free agency this offseason.
The next two players closest to Pedroia in WAR are Ryan Braun and Evan Longoria, both of whom have signed long-term extensions worth $130-$140 million. Players who have less WAR than Pedroia over the same time span like Joey Votto (31 WAR), Adrian Gonzalez (28.4 WAR) and Prince Fielder (25.3 WAR) all signed contracts within the last two seasons totaling $251.1 million, $154 million, and $214 million, respectively.
Furthermore, Pedroia has played his entire career in Boston, has won a World Series with the team, and is, undoubtedly a fan favorite. He has continuously expressed a desire to play his whole career in Boston. He is the perfect candidate for the “face of the franchise” kind of deal that guys like Votto and Longoria have agreed to. This has to add even more value to an already exceedingly valuable player.
So Pedroia’s contract, be it seven or eight years, should total at least somewhere in the range of $150 million, or more, right?
Wrong. In the end, the two sides agreed to a seven-year, $100 million extension which will go into effect in the 2015 season. The $14.2 million average annual value, which decreases to $13.75 million per year over the next eight seasons, when his current 2014 salary is considered, is a far cry from the likes of Votto, Gonzalez and Fielder, all of whom were within one year of Pedroia in age when they signed their deals.
There are many possible explanations for why Pedroia didn’t get the contract that he deserved: his low home run numbers, the lack of value placed on the second base position compared to corner infield or outfield positions and his increased injury frequency over the past few seasons, for example. But maybe it’s just a continuation of Pedroia’s skills being doubted, or not being taken as seriously as they should be.
Pedroia gets a lot of respect and a lot of recognition for playing the game at such a high level, probably more than he, or anyone else, could have imagined. But there’s still one more step that he needs to take, one more hurdle that he needs to jump. He still isn’t considered to be in the same conversation as the stars that he has consistently outperformed throughout his career. But, one day, when his playing days are done, I think people will look back on his career and realize that he was a superstar in every sense of the word.
Because, as Pedroia himself said, “it doesn’t matter how big or tall you are, if you want to win and you want to play this game, then you can do it.” If he keeps this in mind, and if he continues to play every day like he has something to prove and someone to prove wrong, he will be worth every penny of his contract and more.