LAS VEGAS — Ian Kinsler has been here at the Winter Meetings interviewing with various teams for a job, his Red Sox career likely over.
Kinsler was the American League Gold Glove winner at second base last season, and filled a significant starting role for the Red Sox, minus a hideous throwing error in Game 3 of the World Series.
But Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, at least for the moment, doesn’t feel he needs to sign Kinsler, or any other second baseman. The hope is Dustin Pedroia will regain the starting job, and that Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez can provide enough protection in case Pedroia isn’t ready.
And therein lies what could be a significant story. Can Pedroia return from the complicated cartilage restoration surgery on his left knee that cost him most of the 2018 season? Or is this a pipe dream?
“I’m doing great,’’ Pedroia said. “Working hard and believing.”
According to Dombrowski, Pedroia won’t start running until January, and only then will the Red Sox know whether a comeback is even possible.
Pedroia had a second surgery in August. His doctors then decided against further offseason surgery, advising he continue to rehab the knee. There’s been limited information regarding Pedroia’s status. What we do know is some people close to him, such as his agents, the Levinson brothers, are worried about whether Pedroia can make it back.
The surgery was so new when it came to baseball players that nobody has been able to find the right rehab or post-surgical methods to get a player back on the field. Even Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright, who had a version of the surgery, has had trouble staying on the mound for any length of time. Wright underwent more surgery just last month.
Pedroia had fractures in his leg at the same time he had the knee surgery, so he was dealing with a lot. It’s a complicated situation that no one has been able to explain.
Terry Francona, Pedroia’s former manager and close friend, was asked at the Winter Meetings about Pedroia’s comeback, and he said he’s rooting hard for it to happen.
“I’ve been pretty vocal about how special he is,” said Francona. “If anybody can do something, it’s him, and if he can’t it will be because of the way he played for so long that it just beat the crap out of him. But no, I’ll be pulling for him like crazy.”
And there is one reason Pedroia may make it back – his will.
There is no player since I started covering the Red Sox in 1984 who has beaten the odds and proven people wrong more than Pedroia. There are people now who are concerned that at age 35, and after a major knee operation, he may not be able to beat the odds this time.
NESN analyst Jerry Remy, whose playing career ended after his 11th knee surgery, can certainly sympathize with Pedroia, but he continues to hold out hope that Pedroia, the second greatest Red Sox second baseman to Bobby Doerr, can make it back and be the player he once was.
“Just look at all the odds against him,” Remy said. “When he first came up people said he was too small, his swing was too big for a little guy and all that stuff, and then he just kept proving people wrong. Rookie of the Year, MVP of the league. Great Gold Glove second baseman. So if people think he’s out, watch him prove you wrong.”
There’s no doubt that while some of Pedroia’s critics will say the Red Sox still won a championship without him, therefore it shows he doesn’t have value, well, consider how good they would have been if they had a healthy Pedroia.
“We liked Ian, but at this point we’re not pursuing anything,” Dombrowski said. “I ran into him and he told he was visiting with some clubs. Right now we’re not prepared to offer anybody a major league contract for that because of where we are. We’re hoping Dustin comes back and we have some internal options. Someone like Ian and others who are out there right now are looking for big league deals. I can’t say that if we get to January and there was someone sitting out there that didn’t have a big league deal that they might take a big league invite, that we would be open to inviting them to protect ourselves, but that’s some time away.”
Second base is certainly a position where there are many options. The higher end would be a player such as DJ LeMahieu, a superb two-way second baseman. And also available are veterans Jed Lowrie and Brian Dozier. There’s been some talk that recently released Troy Tulowitzki could make the transition from shortstop to second base, if he has any mobility left after missing the 2018 season because of heel surgery. The Blue Jays ate the remaining $38 million on his contract and released him.
MLB Traderumors’ lists of available second basemen also includes Gordon Beckham, Tim Beckham, Asdrubal Cabrera, Chase d’Arnaud, Daniel Descalso, Derek Dietrich, Jose Miguel Fernandez, Ryan Flaherty, Wilmer Flores, Logan Forsythe, Ryan Goins, Marwin Gonzalez, Josh Harrison, Brad Miller, Daniel Murphy, Gregorio Petit, Brandon Phillips, Jose Reyes, Sean Rodriguez, Eric Sogard, Yangervis Solarte, Cory Spangenberg, and Neil Walker.
Not many of these players will get major league contracts. Many will have to accept major league invites, so the pool of available second basemen is pretty deep. Is there anyone better than Holt on that list?
While we look at the Red Sox and see newfound holes — closer, and possibly second base — the best-case scenario is for Pedroia to make it back to 100 percent.
He has said from the end of the season he plans to be ready for 2019, with his knee issues behind him. But he’ll always say that. Pedroia has gotten more realistic about his progress through this process, but he fights with everything in him.
It’s really the biggest challenge of his long and illustrious career.
The odds are always against him, and somehow he beats them. Will he be able to this time?