The Red Sox will break camp in a month with 25 players heading north to Boston. We begin a daily look at each position on the club, from the projected starters to their backups. Our latest installment examines second base.
The foundation: It was rather fitting that Dustin Pedroia and Derek Jeter became fast friends while the two were teammates during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Though they're rivals during the major league season, perhaps no two players are more representative of their teams, more entrenched as the leaders and less threatened to be replaced than Pedroia and Jeter.
Sure, you can find other examples such as Chase Utley or Albert Pujols, but neither plays in Boston or New York nor carries the responsibilities of being their team's iconic player both on and off the field. As Pedroia goes, so go the Red Sox, and it will be that way for some time.
The 26-year-old second baseman, who is signed through 2014, turned double plays with six different shortstops last year. There are fluid situations at four other positions this spring in camp as well as at the back end of the rotation. Even stalwarts like Kevin Youkilis have to keep multiple gloves handy in case of a switch.
Pedroia, meanwhile, has to show up and play, and few do it better at his position. Or more often.
"I'm just getting ready for the long haul, man," Pedroia said at the start of spring training. "It's a long year, and I like to play a lot of games, so I've got to prepare myself for that."
Pedroia has ranked in the top five in the American League in plate appearances each of the last two seasons. He's led the Junior Circuit in runs scored both years, and while he appeared to have a bit of a falloff from his 2008 MVP campaign, a closer look reveals growth on the offensive side of things.
The Sox second sacker increased his walks from 50 to 74, while reducing his strikeouts from 52 to 45, a feat which signals long-term success at the dish and is a rarity in the big-bopping AL East.
Even Jeter has never come close to a ratio so fine.
Pedroia also raised his average with runners in scoring position 20 points over his 2008 numbers, at times carrying an offense that, while potent, was prone to team-wide funks.
Defensively, the 2008 Gold Glove winner has made the position his own, showing remarkable range and, like Jeter, an uncanny ability to make plays in the clutch. His teammates love him for that, and they will for a long time to come.
Other options: Yeah, right. Short of an extremely unlikely move to shortstop, a notion which was bandied about this offseason as the Sox searched for someone to fill that black hole, Pedroia is set at second base. Like Jeter, he may wind up being one of those rare players who comes up at a spot and never moves. The Red Sox are simply better for it.
In the immediate need for a replacement should Pedroia get hurt, Tug Hulett, a utility man who played 15 games in Kansas City last year, would likely get the call. Veteran minor leaguer Gil Velazquez also played four games at second for the Red Sox in 2009.
If all else fails: Should the Red Sox find themselves in a situation where they need a second baseman long-term, then we know something has gone horribly wrong. But among the players at the position who might be available come July 31, Boston could opt for Akinori Iwamura, the one-time Ray, or the OBP-phobic Jose Lopez of Seattle.
Better yet, just grab the Kleenex.
NESN.com will be previewing
the 2010 Red Sox by position.
March 6: Shortstop