In Ian Kinsler, the Boston Red Sox grabbed a veteran second baseman who could come close to replicating what a healthy Dustin Pedroia would bring to the team. They also got a guy who finally, 16 years later, can say he was able to take over Pedroia’s spot. Even if it took an injury and a trade to happen, it still happened.
Back in 2002, it was the other way around. Pedroia tore his way through three seasons at Arizona State University, earning first team All-Pac-10 honors all three years. He also made Baseball America’s first team and was named a second team All-American in his 2004 junior year. The Red Sox would draft him in the second round that summer.
Kinsler, meanwhile, transferred to ASU in 2002 with the promise of starting at shortstop after Pedroia moved to second base. That was short-lived, as the scuffling Kinsler got benched in favor of Pedroia, who shifted back to the other side of the diamond. Kinsler ended up transferring a second time, playing for Missouri in his junior year. And he was at least able to say he made the pros quicker than Pedroia, being drafted (the third such time) in 2003 by the Texas Rangers – in the 17th round.
Both made it to the major leagues for the first time in 2006. And while they each quickly proved to be among the best in a “golden era” of second basemen, Pedroia continued to overshadow his former ASU teammate. Red Sox fans will never forget Pedroia’s Rookie of the Year season in 2007, which culminated in a World Series championship and was followed up with an MVP campaign in 2008.
Kinsler? While he’s been a four-time All-Star and has had postseason success with an .848 career OPS in October and beyond, he’s never finished higher than 11th in MVP voting. He didn’t win a Gold Glove award until 2016 as a 34-year-old, after Pedroia had already won four. Pedroia even supplanted Kinsler as the starting second baseman for the American League in the 2008 All-Star Game. At the time, Kinsler described his “relationship” to Sports Illustrated as one that wasn’t necessarily friendly. It surely must have improved by now.
“It’s just weird,” Kinsler said. “No one really has understood it. At the All-Star Game they would think, Oh, they played together in college, now they’re together at the All-Star Game, they’re friends. Pedroia went to ASU, was a Pac-10 Player of the Year, was a [second-round] draft pick and made the big leagues. It’s pretty simple. For me, let’s just say it was a process. It took me a while to figure things out.”
Now, the 36-year-old Kinsler has a chance to take Pedroia’s place in the best possible way. He can be the team’s spark-plug second baseman with a solid all-around game and the kind of infectious competitiveness that clubhouses need to succeed in the playoffs. He’s certainly not the player he used to be, but he should absolutely improve upon the .671 OPS that the Red Sox have gotten out of the second base position in 2018. That includes just two games from Pedroia, who may not play again this season due to complications with his knee.
David Price feels that, after getting his former Tigers teammate, the Red Sox may have just gotten the perfect player to replace Pedroia on the roster.
“He’s the closest teammate I’ve ever had to Dustin Pedroia,” Price said via MassLive’s Christopher Smith. “So he brings that intensity, that fire every single day. He’s a gamer. So he’ll make any team better.”
In a roundabout way, Kinsler has finally returned the favor to Pedroia after losing the Sun Devils’ shortstop job 16 years ago. Yes, it took a trade and serious issues with Pedroia’s knee to make it possible, but it’s a fascinating full-circle moment for the veteran second baseman. Hopefully, Pedroia can be back to full strength and playing every day in 2019. But for the 2018 stretch run, it’d be hard for the Red Sox to find a more fitting replacement.
The Red Sox have plenty to prove in October with their current group. But at second base, they at least have a veteran presence with a pedigree of winning. It’s just not the second baseman they’re used to having.
— By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.