Wait a minute — Dustin Pedroia can play shortstop?
He sure can. It’s easy to forget here in Boston — where Pedroia has racked up two All-Star selections, a Rookie of the Year and an MVP as the Red Sox’ second baseman — but it was at short where Pedroia cut his teeth as a rising star in baseball. How quickly we all allowed that little fact to slip our minds.
At Arizona State, Pedroia was a megastar of a shortstop. He and Ian Kinsler, another future major league All-Star middle infielder, fought for playing time at short. Guess who won.
Pedroia was a sensational shortstop, twice being named as a first-team All-American, and was named the national Defensive Player of the Year in 2003. When the Red Sox drafted him out of ASU in 2004, it was as much for his defense as anything else.
So Pedroia definitely knows what he’s doing as a shortstop. Or at least he can, if need be. So why move him now?
The reason is that it just makes good business sense. The Sox are after a middle infielder to complement Pedroia, one way or another, and the market looks better for second basemen. There’s a vast selection of free agents available to the Red Sox this winter and any one of them could jell with the shortstop Pedroia for a superb double-play combination.
Here’s five names to prove it:
1. Placido Polanco. As far as offensive prowess goes, Polanco is one of the few second basemen out there that can rival Pedroia. He’s just two seasons removed from making a serious run at a batting title, finishing with a .341 average in 2007 and scoring 105 runs for an offensive juggernaut Detroit team. Polanco’s four-year, $18.4 million contract with the Tigers is up, and at 34, the veteran infielder still has a couple years left in him.
2. Orlando Hudson. Remember this season when everyone was anointing Hudson as the new leader, on and off the field, of a Dodgers team that ran away with the NL West? All that talk wasn’t entirely crazy. Hudson arrived on the scene in L.A. and immediately ignited the Dodgers’ offense, putting up a .357 on-base percentage and 35 doubles. Before that, he spent three years putting up similar numbers in Arizona. Could he do the same in Boston? There’s no reason why not. And given his salary demands (only $3.38 million for this past season), the Red Sox could do a lot worse than giving him a shot.
3. Adam Kennedy. He’s flown under the radar for the last few years, but he’s definitely still got what it takes. Kennedy put up a .348 OBP for the Oakland A’s last season, starting regularly but splitting time between second base and third. He’s proven that he can still get it done in the American League — so why not in Fenway? Like Hudson, he’d be a bargain for the production he has to offer — he made $4 million last season, and his paychecks will likely only shrink with age.
4. Felipe Lopez. The 29-year-old second baseman has bounced around like a pinball for the last five years, signing a one-year contract every winter and finding employment in Cincinnati, Washington, St. Louis, Arizona and Milwaukee. His numbers over that five-year span: .280 average, .349 on-base percentage, 12 homers and 30 doubles per season. He’s also played a solid defensive second base. And he’s never made more than $5 million in a season, raking in $3.5 mil last year. Sounds like a good deal.
5. Ronnie Belliard. Possibly the best of the five second basemen defensively, Belliard is also likely to be the cheapest. He signed a two-year, $3.5 million extension with the Nationals in July 2007 — and that’s when he was 32. He’s getting on in years now, and the Red Sox could dip into the bargain bin to rent him for a year or two. He’s no slouch at the plate, either — he put up a 1.034 OPS after the trade deadline in 2009 when the Nationals shipped him to L.A., and he’s still got plenty of power to the gaps.
So why move Pedroia to shortstop? You just read five reasons why. It’s not about Pedroia himself — it’s about what’s best for the Red Sox as a team.