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The Dustin Pedroia Question

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The veteran’s presence on the roster will loom large this winter.

Baltimore Orioles v Boston Red Sox Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

We are actually at the cusp of the official offseason at this point. Obviously the Red Sox have been in offseason mode for a month now (one could maybe make the argument they’ve been here since late August), but the league as a whole will join them at the conclusion of the World Series, which will come, at the latest, next Wednesday night. That means a week from the day this publishes is the latest the first day of the offseason can come.

And for the Red Sox, things are sure to be busy. Ostensibly, the search for a manager is the first task on their to-do list. We haven’t heard much on that front, which could be explained by reasons both related to, and not related to, a certain former Red Sox manager. We’ll be talking about that plenty once things become more clear on that front. Beyond the managerial search, the organization has plenty of decisions to make regarding the actual players.

This is where the busy part comes in, as there is a lot of overflow around the periphery of this roster. Including injured players who need to come back onto the roster once the offseason begins along with the six players — Connor Wong, Connor Seabold, Jeisson Rosario, Hudson Potts, Jay Groome, Bryan Mata — who are sure to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft, the Red Sox, by my count, have 52 players to account for. That’s 12 more than they are allowed, for those keep track at home.

Boston Red Sox v New York Yankees Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Now, the good (probably not the right word!) news here is that it’s not all that difficult to find players who should no longer be on the roster. That’s the thing about being a bad baseball team: You don’t exactly miss a good chunk of the players at the bottom of the roster. We’ll get more in-depth on this as the offseason really gets started next week, but between non-tenders like José Peraza and Zack Godley (maybe among others) and pre-arbitration players who aren’t necessarily locks to keep their roster spot like Kyle Hart and Matt Hall (again, among others), they don’t have to get too crazy to make enough room on the roster.

Even with all of the chaff at the bottom of the roster, though, it’s still quite crowded, particularly when you start to factor in the multiple additions they should be looking to make to this roster before spring training. There’s really no way to slice it without realizing that roster spots will be at a premium this winter, which brings us to the Dustin Pedroia-sized elephant in the room. (Which is actually a distressingly small elephant.)

Pedroia has been dealing with knee injuries for years now, and it’s been three full seasons with him barely seeing the field at this point. The last time he played more than six games in a season was back in 2017. This past year, he didn’t play at all and even before things were shut down in the original spring training he didn’t even make it to Fort Myers. Now, as we look ahead to 2021, Pedroia is in the last year of his contract, owed $12 million with a $13.75 million hit on the luxury tax. The financials are a sunk cost, and frankly not something I’m overly concerned with. The roster spot could make things a bit uncomfortable this winter, though.

There are, of course, two ways for this to go this winter. Down one road, Pedroia remains determined to get back on the field. He spends the winter continuing to rehab in order to hopefully join up with the team in Fort Myers next March. It’s a longshot, but we’ve been rooting for Pedroia long enough to know if there’s a one percent chance, he’s going for it. Down the other road, he and the Red Sox agree to a settlement like the one David Wright signed with the Mets, taking him off the roster and hopefully paving the way for some sort of off-the-field role with the organization. My understanding (though I’m admittedly not 100 percent clear on this) is that this sort of settlement would not clear the luxury tax hit, but it would clear the roster spot.

For the front office, from a strict roster-building perspective, the second option is clearly the best. As someone who has rooted for Pedroia for his entire career — he’s really the first homegrown Red Sox star for which that is true — I don’t enjoy looking at things through a lens in which it is better that he is not around, but in a vacuum it is undeniably true. Even with that said, though, the Red Sox need to tread lightly around this situation. The absolute last thing they can do is botch this and leave things on a sour note with one of the legends in their franchise’s history. It’s not how business should be done at any point, but it’s particularly important for a franchise that already has some public relation issues between trading a star last winter, firing a bunch of staffers over the summer and then following that up with a bid to go public. Tossing a franchise icon to the side would be the cherry on top of a brutal public relations sundae.

Ultimately, it needs to Pedroia’s decision. The team certainly can, and presumably will, have conversations with him in which they will probably try to push him towards taking a front office or coaching role of some sort to take him off the roster, but they can’t make the decision for him. The good news on this front is that they appear to realize that based on comments from Brian O’Halloran.

“I don’t think that any one particular roster spot is something I would focus on as a problem and certainly not when it’s Dustin Pedroia,” Red Sox GM Brian O’Halloran said last week. “We’re going to talk to Dustin and he’s obviously going to have the most say in where things go from here. No. 1 is making sure he’s as healthy as he can be for the rest of his life, really. And certainly we want to talk to him and see how he’s feeling and see where he wants to go from here.”

At the end of the day, while every roster spot is important, the Red Sox can find a way to make things work even if Pedroia wants one more year for a comeback. There are enough fringe players on this roster to figure things out. And honestly, purely as a fan, if there is a way for Pedroia to get the farewell he deserves by getting on the field one last time, I am 100 percent on board for making that happen. But at the end of the day, it has to be his choice one way or the other. A roster spot is important, but doing right by one of the most important players in franchise history takes precedence.