Boston Red Sox

By Matt McCarthy,

The Dustin Pedroia hype is coming out of spring training has begun.

Pedroia arrived at camp on Thursday and took batting practice and fielded some groundballs. Teammates and staff members alike have been talking up Pedroia’s health and ability the last few days.

“He looks in great shape,” manager Alex Cora said.

“He’s one of those guys you can never rule out. I dare you to rule him out actually, because he’s out to prove a point this year,” Chris Sale said of Pedroia.

“You guys see that?” Pedroia asked after hitting a ball off the wall during batting practice.

But there’s one thing we haven’t seen: Pedroia actually playing baseball for the last year and a half. Until we see that, it’s all just talk.

A healthy Pedroia would be a huge boost for the Red Sox. He would improve the lineup and his defense at second base would be an upgrade over Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez. It’s easy to forget just what a good player Pedroia is because it’s been so long since we’ve seen it on the field.

But counting on Pedroia for much of an impact seems like a losing bet at this point. Through no fault of his own, he may never be the same player again.

Manny Machado’s spike in Baltimore unnecessarily derailed Pedroia’s career.

Mar 29, 2018; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (15) looks on from the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

There is no track record of ballplayers returning from the cartilage restoration surgery Pedroia had on his knee following the 2017 season. Knuckleballer Steven Wright had a similar procedure and earlier this week he admitted he may never feel the same again.

“I don’t think I’m ever going to feel 100 percent like I did before I hurt my knee,” Wright told Chris Mason of the Eagle Tribune.

If a knuckleball pitcher feels that way, it’s fair to wonder how a hard-nosed second baseman’s knee can possibly hold up playing the field, hitting, and running the bases. There’s little proof in the pudding to suggest that Pedroia can contribute on a day-to-day basis.

“Looking back and knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have done it,” Pedroia said Friday when he was asked if he would make the same decision again to have the same surgery.

Adding a player of Pedroia’s caliber to a team that won 119 games last year is an exciting prospect, but there’s a far better chance that Pedroia plays only three games like last year than being on the field for 119 games this season.

The Red Sox have to prepare themselves for the reality that Pedroia might never be able to take the field on a nightly basis ever again. It’s no coincidence that corner infielder Michael Chavis, one of their top prospects, will see time at second base in Pawtucket this year.

If Chavis can’t help the big league club by this summer, there’s a chance the Sox might have to go out and find this year’s version of Ian Kinsler on the trade market. Holt and Nunez are no sure bets to stay healthy, either. We could be looking at another summer of duct tape solutions at second base.

Stopgaps and temporary fixes will likely be the plan for the next three years. Pedroia is under contract and is owed $40 million in total through 2021. So long as he’s still with the team, the Red Sox will give him a chance to get on the field, because the promise of the real Dustin Pedroia playing second base on a nightly basis is too good to pass up.

But there are no guarantees we’ll ever see the real Dustin Pedroia again.

You can hear Matt McCarthy on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s own Hardcore Baseball podcast and on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MattMcCarthy985.