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Switching Pedroia? It stops short

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  December 2, 2009 09:52 AM

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Dustin Pedroia could make this work, at least for a year or so, which is the only reason it is being mentioned at all. The spunky second baseman of the Red Sox is the consummate team guy and the definition of instinctive baseball player, and he is, above all else, a winner.

He is just far better off as a second baseman than he is as a shortstop.

So are the Red Sox.

And they all know it.

Desperation can lead people to do unorthodox things, of course, and the Red Sox are not desperate in the extreme sense of the word. They are, however, a little desperate nonetheless. At the moment, Jason Bay is a free agent while David Ortiz and Mike Lowell are both entering the final year of their contracts, all while the Sox are operating without any real solutions in their player development system.

For those of you who still think the Red Sox offense is going to be fine, ask yourselves this: if the Sox were concerned enough a year ago to offer Mark Teixeira the richest contract in club history – eight years, $170 million – how concerned are they now? The bottom of the batting order has been an ongoing concern since the 2008 postseason. In 2010, the middle of the order will be an issue, too.

Here’s why all of this relates to Pedroia, who has been both a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger winner at his current position: if the Red Sox move him to shortstop, it obviously would be in an attempt to deepen their lineup. In the AL last season, shortstops had the lowest combined OPS of any positional players and the Red Sox ranked 10th among the 14 clubs. At second base, the Red Sox ranked third. Be it through trade or free agency, the Red Sox are far more likely to find a reasonably productive second baseman these days than they are a shortstop, which is how the idea of moving Pedroia got its start.

Know what that means? It means the Sox are now looking for significant offense from their middle infielders because they know they are not likely to get it from other parts of their lineup, most notably from the designated hitter.

At the moment, all of this relates directly to the Sox’ decision to cut free Alex Gonzalez, who signed last week with the Toronto Blue Jays for $2.75 million, though money had absolutely nothing to do with Boston’s decision. (The Red Sox were prepared to offer roughly $3 million.) The reason the Red Sox weren’t willing to commit to Gonzalez then is because they wanted more time to find a better offensive shortstop. At worst, the Sox can always find someone like Adam Everett (a free agent) to play shortstop. At best, they find someone who can play close to the same defense with much better offensive upside.

Or, if they choose, they can move Pedroia over and find another second baseman.

Let there be no doubt: Pedroia could play shortstop reasonably well. The primary concerns with Pedroia would be his range and arm strength, though he possesses such exceptional instincts that he could make up for some of what he lacks physically in both areas. For all of the criticisms that were made of someone like David Eckstein during his career as a shortstop – range and arm strength were chief among them – Eckstein was the starting shortstop on two World Series winners, one in the American League (the Angels, 2002) and one in the National League (the Cardinals, 2006).

For obvious reasons, Eckstein and Pedroia have been compared before. Throughout much of his career, many believed Eckstein would have made a far better second baseman than shortstop. The biggest difference between the two is that Eckstein never had Pedroia’s bat – nor did he have anything even remotely resembling it – which is why no manager in history ever would have considered batting Eckstein cleanup.

Let’s make all this clear: Pedroia could play shortstop well enough for the Sox to get by for a year, maybe two, until Jose Iglesias (or someone else) is ready to take over. The Sox would remain a playoff contender throughout. Pedroia has the instincts and the makeup to handle such a switch, and this entire discussion, more than anything else, is testament to his attitude and skill.

The problem is that the Red Sox would be making the move largely to account for other deficiencies, specifically in the middle of their lineup.

At the moment, what the Red Sox have in Pedroia is an elite all-around performer at his position, the kind of player that doesn’t grow on trees. Moving him to another position would be have been akin to making Jonathan Papelbon a starter in the earlier years of his career. Why dilute that? Why steal from one area to shore up another? Moving Pedroia to shortstop would be a short-term fix of the simplest kind, and the only reason to do it permanently would be if the Red Sox had a budding, can’t-miss prospect at second base.

The roles were a little different back then, but that is precisely what the Red Sox did during the spring of 1997 with Nomar Garciaparra and John Valentin.

Let’s be honest here, folks. The Red Sox need hitters and, at the moment, they need more than one. Finding a second baseman who can hit 10-15 homers and knock in 65 runs isn’t going to do the trick. Somewhere between now and Opening Day 2010 or 2011 – anyone else think this going to be a rebuilding year? – the Sox need to find a legitimate, middle-of-the order bat like Miguel Cabrera or Adrian Gonzalez, and that is in addition to resolving their current issue in left field, be it with Jason Bay or Matt Holliday.

We all know Dustin Pedroia can handle a challenge.

But is moving him to shortstop really going to solve the Red Sox’ longer-term problems?

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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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