There’s something to be said for rewarding a star player who has been underpaid most of his career. Dustin Pedroia is one of the two faces of the Red Sox, he’s a legitimate All-Star candidate every year and it’s possible he’ll go into the Hall of Fame someday. If he were a free agent this winter, a long-term, $20 million-per-year extension would make plenty of sense for the Red Sox. He’s worthy of that kind of money.
But, of course, Pedroia isn’t a free agent this winter. The Red Sox have him signed at the bargain rate of $10 million next year, with an $11 million club option for 2015. Those salaries can increase a bit if Pedroia finishes in the top three in the AL MVP balloting this year, but he’s a steal either way.
So, why sign Pedroia now? The plus for the Red Sox would seem to be to beat the big Robinson Cano deal that’s coming this winter. Cano is likely to get one of the biggest free agent contracts ever; $150 million for six years would be the low end for him. Something like $190 million for seven years might be more realistic. Pedroia might not want to settle for $20 million per year once Cano is making $25 million-$27 million.
But that’s basically the only reason to do it now. Pedroia is nine months younger than Cano, but he won’t be a free agent until he’s 32. Of Pedroia’s 10 most similar players through age 28, according to Baseball Reference, only one remained a star after age 32. That’s Charlie Gehringer, one of two Hall of Famers in his top 10. The other HOFer, Tony Lazzeri, had his last year as a regular at 33. Jose Vidro, Pedroia’s most similar player, had a lousy year at 33 and then vanished. Ray Durham and Michael Young, Nos. 3 and 4 on the list, lasted as regulars, but not as very good ones.
Probably in part because of the takeout slides and all of the diving around, second basemen tend to have shelf lives. Pedroia has been durable, missing a big chunk of a season just once in his career to date, but he does get banged up. It’s probably going to get worse in his 30s, given how hard he plays the game. If his body starts breaking down, he’ll turn worthless in a hurry.
There’s also one more big reason for the Red Sox not to do a deal: any contract extension immediately gets factored in for luxury tax purposes. With an average annual value under $7 million, Pedroia’s modest deal has been a big help to a franchise that’s been trying to edge up against, but not exceed, the tax threshold. Any new contract will result in a big jump in that figure next year. If you remember, it was luxury tax purposes that caused the Red Sox to delay wrapping up Adrian Gonzalez’s big deal two years ago; they needed his cheap luxury-tax figure to carry over for one more year before they gave him his $22 million-per-year contract.
Pedroia is a wonderful player, and it’d be great to see him keep this up for another seven or eight years. Banking on it, though, would be a mistake. Ideally, the Red Sox could give Pedroia something like a two-year extension through 2017, with nice boosts to his 2014-15 salaries as part of the bargain. Since that probably isn’t happening, they should just let things play out for the next two years.