“Nobody is playing his position better in baseball right now than Pedroia,” said the AL scout. “He’s playing out of his mind. The plays he’s making — you just don’t see that stuff every day, but you see it with him every day. Honestly, I’m surprised he doesn’t get hurt with the some of the extensions and the ranging he does. That’s special right there.”
Pedroia is what he is — a hungry, dirty (as in getting his uniform dirty) ballplayer who would come out of his body if he could to make a play. No team in baseball can boast anyone quite like him.
“I think I play the game hard,” said teammate Shane Victorino. “But this guy is something out of . . . I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like this guy.”
And that’s saying a lot for Victorino, who played alongside Chase Utley for many years in Philadelphia and considered him one of the greatest warriors in the game.
Robinson Cano is rightfully considered an MVP-type player both offensively and defensively. But day in and day out on defense, you’re not going to see anyone else do what Pedroia does.
“That’s a great debate,” said the NL scout. “Who would you rather have? Cano gives you some power that Pedroia doesn’t. He may hit for a higher average and he’s excellent defensively. He’s an MVP-type guy even though Pedroia’s won that award and Cano hasn’t. I may be crazy, but I’d take Pedroia on my team over Cano.
“A lot of people may disagree with me, but when you watch the little things he does, the way he plays the game . . . I’ll tell you this, if you’re a teammate and you don’t emulate his desire and hustle on a baseball field, you don’t have a pulse. This guy is inspiring. And he doesn’t have to say a word to be inspiring. I would take any young kid I had on my team and say, ‘Watch how this guy plays the game.’ ”
We’re not breaking new ground here. The superlatives have always been there for Pedroia. Sometimes there’s a tendency to take someone like him for granted. Remember George Brett saying that Pedroia would wear down, that his swing was too long, that he wouldn’t last? That was in 2008, the season in which Pedroia won MVP, and Brett will tell you he was flat-out wrong.
Is Pedroia better defensively now than he’s ever been?
“I don’t know,” he said. “I just know I feel more sure of myself out there. I’ve been around the league long enough where I’m playing smarter. I know the hitters’ tendencies and where they’re going to hit the ball based on how we pitch them. I guess with that knowledge you have more confidence that when a ball is hit in your direction, you’re going to make the play. I don’t always make the play, but it’s definitely better to have that knowledge.”
Pedroia knocked into two double plays Friday night (he also started the 10th-inning rally with a single) and it absolutely killed him. You could tell by the look on his face going down the first base line.
He would never say it, but it bothers him that he’s hit only one home run this season; he should finish with 15-20. The fact he’s the Sox’ No. 3 hitter tells you all you need to know about his enormous talent and desire.
“Nothing bothers me more than making two outs,” Pedroia said. “Nothing. There’s no excuse for it. It’s bad enough we have to make outs at all. The home runs I’m not worried about. When I go up there trying to hit one, I can’t even get a hit, so I don’t do that.”
Pedroia was an active contributor in the Red Sox’ 12-5 victory Saturday night. He walked ahead of David Ortiz’s three-run blast in the first inning. He reached on a hustle infield single in the third, which pushed Jonny Gomes into scoring position and allowed Ortiz to knock him in with a single. He doubled in a run in the fifth and then walked ahead of Ortiz’s two-run blast in the seventh.
In the bottom of the sixth he made a nice over-the-shoulder catch in short right of Aaron Hicks’s popup and then quickly turned and fired to the plate to nail Ryan Doumit trying to score. Most second basemen would be off-balance on that play, but not Pedroia.
The play was big because the bases were loaded and it took the Twins out of a potential rally with the Sox leading, 7-5.
“Basically trying to catch it and get the ball back in the infield and that’s basically it,” Pedroia said. “I had to play it to the side a little bit and throw. I didn’t know if he was running so I just threw it home.”
Was Pedroia surprised Doumit tried to score?
“Not really,” he said. “I’m out there and my back is to the play so it’s kind of a hard throw. Ryan [Lavarnway] did a great job of holding on to the ball and it was a big play.”
There’s a lot of talk about Cano’s contract. He changed agents, from Scott Boras to Jay-Z, because he’d like the Yankees to step up and keep him. Cano will make a lot of money wherever he ends up.
And while Pedroia never talks about it, you can bet he’s got an eye on Cano’s situation. If Cano is worth $20 million-$25 million a year, what’s Pedroia worth?
Pedroia signed a team-friendly contract extension prior to the 2009 season. He earns $10 million this year and next, with an $11 million team option in 2015. Pedroia is going to be grossly underpaid for his talent level, and certainly in comparision with Cano.
What should the Red Sox do? How long can they extend him, knowing that at some point “special” becomes “good” and “good” becomes “adequate”?
Cano, 30, is one year older than Pedroia. There’s talk of a 10-year, $200 million deal ahead for Cano.
Cano has a .308 career average, Pedroia .304. Cano has an .855 career OPS, Pedroia .831. This season, Cano is hitting .295 with 12 homers and 31 RBIs. Pedroia entered Saturday batting .335 with one homer and 17 RBIs, but with a .423 on-base percentage that is almost 100 points higher than Cano’s.
So if Cano is worth between $20 million-$25 million per year, where does Pedroia fall?
“I don’t even think about the business aspect of it,” Pedroia said. “I leave that up to my agents. I have no idea what’s going to happen with that. Once the season starts I just go all out and try to help this team win some games. That’s all I’m interested in.”Nick Cafardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.