Dustin Pedroia has started eight consecutive Opening Days for the Red Sox, the longest active streak on the team. He also has played 1,120 games since the start of the 2007, the most for the Sox.
“He has always been somebody this team can count on,” manager John Farrell said near the end of last season.
The Red Sox fully expect that will be the case again in 2015. Pedroia is eager to get to spring training after ending last season on the sideline recovering from surgery on his left wrist. The surgery was timed to give Pedroia an opportunity to go through his usual workout program.
For Pedroia, now 31, that aspect of the decision to end his season early was crucial. He had surgery on his left thumb following the 2013 season then reinjured the area early last year. He has hit .290 the last two seasons but with a .397 slugging percentage.
Pedroia had a .465 slugging percentage over the first six full seasons of his career and averaged nearly 15 home runs along with 40 doubles. The injuries have sapped his power since.
A solid offseason — including a weight-lifting program that was cut down last winter — should enable Pedroia to regain the pop in his bat. For a Red Sox team that finished near the bottom of the American League in scoring, that is vital.
“I’m going to get back to what I can do,” Pedroia said in September. “It’s been tough the last two seasons but I know I can get it back.”
A lineup that has Pedroia hitting second with David Ortiz, Mike Napoli, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval following would be formidable.
To be certain, Pedroia remains valuable despite the downturn at the plate. His 9.9 WAR over the last two seasons ranks fourth among second basemen. Pedroia has won two consecutive Gold Gloves and his defensive skills are improving with age.
“He’s the best around,” infield coach Brian Butterfield said. “Dustin makes plays be doesn’t have any business making. His ability to position himself and react to the ball is incredible.”
The concern is staying healthy. Pedroia injured his hand in 2013 when he slid headfirst into first base on Opening Day at Yankee Stadium. The injury was aggravated last season when he was taken out trying to turn a double play at second base.
Farrell has spoken to Pedroia about staying aggressive without being reckless. In particular, the Red Sox want him to eliminate headfirst slides that, in addition to being risky, are often counterproductive.
“Dustin has to make some adjustments and I believe he will,” Farrell said.
Pedroia’s injury history suggests the Red Sox should have some depth at second base and they do.
The ever-versatile Brock Holt started seven games at the position last season. The Pittsburgh Pirates, Holt’s original team, projected him as a second baseman and he could handle the job if Pedroia were to return to the disabled list at some point next season.
The Sox also have Jemile Weeks, who was obtained from the Baltimore Orioles on Sept. 30 in exchange for infielder Kelly Johnson and Double A third baseman Michael Almanzar.
Weeks is a career .260 hitter in parts of four seasons in the majors and was 8 of 26 (.308) with three doubles in 14 games for the Red Sox. The former first-round pick is still on the 40-man roster, a sign the Red Sox may view him as having some value.
The most intriguing backup is Mookie Betts.
Betts was developed as a second baseman before being switched to the outfield last May. He took to his new position well and started 28 games in center field and eight in right field for the Sox.
Betts was then shifted back to second base after Pedroia went on the disabled list and started the final 14 games of the season there.
If Pedroia were to suffer a long-term injury, Betts could be the team’s choice to replace him, given the considerable outfield depth on the roster.
The only prospect on the horizon is Sean Coyle, who was added to the 40-man roster in November.
Coyle, who turns 23 in January, hit .295 with a strong .883 OPS for Double A Portland last season. He has 30 home runs over the last two seasons and branched out to play some third base.
The 5-foot-8-inch, 175-pound Coyle, a third-round pick in 2010, has long been compared with Pedroia because of his size and style of play. Now his production is starting to catch up, too.
Coyle should start next season with Triple A Pawtucket.