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Down to the dollar, Pedroia his own man

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  December 3, 2008 02:16 PM

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Clearly, Dustin Pedroia could have held out for more. Maybe he should have. But in an age when professional athletes are criticized for making decisions based solely on money, we cannot possibly pass judgment on a deal that seems, in a word, reasonable.

Or on a man who has made a career out of defying popular belief.

Pedroia's captivating story just got better today, folks, the Red Sox' spunky second baseman agreeing to a six-year contract worth a guaranteed $40.5 million. Should the Red Sox exercise a club option for 2015, the deal would be worth $51 million over seven seasons. All of that ensures that Pedroia will remain in Boston for the foreseeable future, that the Red Sox just locked up a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award(s)-winning second baseman who just happens to be the reigning American League Most Valuable Player.

During the length of the deal, depending on whether the option is exercised, Pedroia will earn an average of between $6.75 million and $7.3 million per season -- let’s call it $7 million a year for simplicity’s sake -- which seems like an extremely team-friendly number for one of the very best players in the game.

Pedroia for $7 million a year?

Sign us up.

"It’s something we’re thrilled about. It’s definitely something we wanted as a club and Dustin wanted as well,’’ said Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "He really embodies just about everything we look for in Red Sox players."

Unselfishness, for starters.

So now we know what the Red Sox have been up to all this time while CC Sabathia strings outs the New York Yankees and Scott Boras plans to star in the Merchant of Vegas: They have been further solidifying their foundation. In a time of great economic instability, the Red Sox’ long-term financial situation just got better. Even if Pedroia’s option for 2015 escalates to $13 million based on future finishes in the MVP voting -- that would bring the value of the package to $53 million over seven years -- the player still will be just 32 years old when he hits the open market again.

Presumably, the Red Sox will have recouped their investment (and then some) by then.
As for Pedroia, he will have ample time to make more. And we cannot sit here and blast someone like Manny Ramirez for chasing every last dollar while simultaneously questioning the business acumen of Pedroia, who knows full well that he could have made more money by waiting.

Besides, in the real world, $40 million is a lot of dough.

"I understand all that stuff," Pedroia said when asked about giving up some of his long-term leverage. "I knew if I had gone year to year I would have made more money. I understand that without a doubt. But I’m in a place where they me treat me and my family unbelievable. I’m happy with this.

"I want to be here. I want to play for the Red Sox," Pedroia added. "I don’t want to play for anybody else. It seemed right to do something."

Purely from a baseball perspective, there are obvious comparisons to make here, though none of them are perfect. In that way, negotiations involving talented young players are like snowflakes, each a little different because a player has a slightly different skill set, different service time, or plays in a different market.

In Pedroia’s case, the logical starting point is with the most distinguished second baseman in the game, Chase Utley of the Philadelphia Phillies. Utley is about to enter the third year of seven-year, $85 million contract he signed before the 2007 season, when he was about a year further along on his career path than Pedroia is now. Utley’s average annual salary of slightly more than $12 million is highest among all major league second basemen, precisely as it should be for a man who brings middle of the order production to a position typically reserved for rug rats.

Now ask yourself this: How much less than Utley does Pedroia warrant? Beyond Utley, is there a second baseman who deserves to make more?

Last year, the Yankees signed Robinson Cano to a four-year, $30 million contract (an average of $7.5 million) that could grow to $55 million over six years. His free agent years carry a higher price tag than Pedroia’s. The bottom line is that the Red Sox have paid less (on an annual average basis) for Pedroia than the Yankees paid for Cano, and we’re willing to bet that all 30 major league teams would choose the former over the latter if they had their druthers today.

No matter how you slice it, the Red Sox come up winners there, which explains why they were eager to sign this deal, too.

As for Pedroia, let’s not be so quick to discount his gains here. Maybe he could have (or should have?) had $60 million from this deal, at this time, but $40 million still means a great deal beyond the baseball diamond. Two years ago at this time, most of us thought Pedroia looked overmatched at the big league level and that he might be a career utility man at best. Now he’s guaranteed to make more than $40 million over the next six years.

"I think you guys are all stupid for not believing in me,’’ Pedroia said before breaking into laughter.

As advantageous as Pedroia’s deal might seem to the Red Sox, let’s stop before we suggest it’s a bad financial deal for the player. It isn’t. Pedroia still ended up with nearly twice as much as Cleveland Indians center fielder Grady Sizemore, currently in the midst of a six-year, $23.45 million contract he signed before having two full years of service time. For Sizemore, who joins Pedroia as one of three current AL players to win both a Gold Glove award and Silver Slugger honor in 2008 – Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer is the other – that contract constitutes a bad deal. In Pedroia’s case, his contract places him somewhere in the middle of a very wide range, suggesting that the deal serves both a happily-married team and player.

Naturally, the question here is whether Pedroia deserved to be on the high end, though we all know Pedroia’s makeup and personality by now. Quite simply, he doesn’t give a damn, which is how he arrived here in the first place. Two years ago, many of us wondered whether Pedroia should be mentioned in the same breath as Mike Benjamin. Today, we’re putting his name up for comparison with Utley. Through it all, Pedroia has continued to act like only Dustin Pedroia, operating with the kind of genuine self-assuredness that we should all be so lucky to possess.

We know this deal is good for the Red Sox. And if the deal is good enough for Pedroia, too, it should be good enough for us.

As Pedroia would be the first to tell you, who cares what anybody else thinks?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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