Could he do it?
In some respects, the question might also represent an answer. Dustin Pedroia, after all, thrives on doubt and skepticism. If he were to move from second base to shortstop — a possibility that was reported on Tuesday on ESPN.com — Pedroia would face plenty of both.
The possibility of Pedroia changing positions is anything but a certainty. Indeed, it may not even be likely.
But, as the Red Sox have considered the various options for filling their need for a starting shortstop, given the imperfect options available in free agency, the idea of considering Pedroia for the vacancy has its appeal. Right now, the idea of moving him remains a purely theoretical one. Even so, the 2007 Rookie of the Year and 2008 American League Most Valuable Player wasn’t shy about expressing his enthusiasm for the possibility.
“They've asked me if I think I could play shortstop," Pedroia told ESPN.com. "They've put it out there and I've told them I'm all for it. I can do it. I can't wait for Tito [Terry Francona] to call me and ask, 'Can you do it?' I can do it. I really want to do it."
Clearly, Pedroia is convinced that he can handle the position. He was, after all, the 2003 NCAA National Defensive Player of the Year while playing shortstop at Arizona State.
In fact, the Sox scouted him as a shortstop. In a draft that featured some extremely athletic shortstops — among them, top overall pick Matt Bush, No. 9 overall pick Chris Nelson, current Diamondbacks starting shortstop Stephen Drew and Rays prospect Reid Brignac — the Sox evaluated Pedroia ahead of all of them.
“He wasn’t the explosive, highlight-reel guy, but he was, in our minds, we thought he was arguably the best defensive shortstop in the draft that year,” Sox amateur scouting director Jason McLeod said. “We’ve talked so much about his freakish hand-eye coordination [as a hitter]. You saw the same thing with the glove. It was just ridiculous how he always seemed to get the right hop. You never saw a ball rattle on him. Soft hands, ball stuck in his glove, quick transfer, out. It was really fun watching him take ground balls and throw them to first base.”
Pedroia split his time in the minors at shortstop and second base. As he was rising through the Sox system, he proved similarly reliable at both positions, committing seven errors in 132 games at short, and another seven in 130 contests at second base.
Nonetheless, at the time that he was moving up the ladder, the Sox believed that a transition to second base was inevitable. His incredible hands would translate to any position, but his range was lacking. While the Sox anticipated that he would be a major league starter in 2007, Pedroia was not a realistic candidate to break into the majors as a shortstop.
(By the end of 2006, the Sox projected Pedroia for an everyday role as a second baseman in ’07, thus leaving the team with a need to acquire a starting shortstop. The Sox thus signed Julio Lugo to a four-year, $36 million deal that winter.)
That, however, came at a time when Pedroia was heavier and slower. He is now, according to McLeod, a different type of athlete in the field thanks to his work at Athletes’ Performance over the last couple of offseasons, an improved diet and a significant commitment to conditioning.
As such, McLeod suggests that the player the Sox took in the second round of the 2004 draft, with the No. 65 overall pick, would be a better fit for shortstop now than he was when he was coming up to the bigs.
“Now, with what’s been discussed with him possibly moving back over there if the need ever arises, he’s moving much better than he ever did as an amateur,” McLeod said. “His hands as a second baseman are second to none, and he’s moving better now. So I would not doubt him one bit from going over there and playing really steady shortstop.”
The fit would not be perfect. Pedroia would not be the type of player who would have the sort of range into the hole of an elite shortstop, and his arm strength (though better than that of David Eckstein, who spent several years as a big league starting shortstop despite his atypical body type for the position) also is less than ideal for the position.
Even so, in college Pedroia demonstrated an ability to compensate for those shortcomings to become a top performer at the position. His baseball IQ is extremely high, typically resulting in excellent positioning on a hitter. In college, his quick hands allowed him to play shallow to cut off angles, thereby offsetting some of the deficiencies in his arm.
Pedroia would not be Alex Gonzalez if the Sox moved him to shortstop. Nonetheless, he would at least be reliable in a way that the shortstop position was not for the Sox for much of the 2009 season.
“If it’s hit to him, it’s going to be an out,” McLeod said. “Period.”
There’s something to be said for that.
Here are five other things we learned from the idea of a move from second base to shortstop for Pedroia:
IT MAY NEVER HAPPEN
The idea of a position change for Pedroia is somewhat fascinating. He’s developed, of course, into one of the best second basemen in the majors, based on both his offense and defense at the position. So there would seem ample reason to avoid rocking the boat.
And it may be that having Pedroia at shortstop is nothing more than one hypothetical among dozens of others that is being bounced off the walls of the front office in Yawkey Way. Just because Pedroia is open to the idea of a change, it does not mean that it is a likely scenario.
Moreover, even if the Sox did opt to have Pedroia at shortstop for some of the 2010 season, it would be in part to permit them flexibility going forward. Rather than signing Marco Scutaro for two or three years, moving Pedroia to short and pursuing one of the second base options on a shorter (one- or two-year) contract would give the Sox the flexibility to adapt either if Jed Lowrie proved healthy enough to reclaim the starting job or until another, better option (including, perhaps, recent signee Jose Iglesias, whose fine showing in the Arizona Fall League suggested that the 19-year-old could be big league ready as soon as 2012).
THE MARKET FOR SECOND BASEMEN IS SUPERIOR TO THE ONE FOR SHORTSTOPS
There are slim pickings at shortstop this offseason. Scutaro, who had a career year at age 33, is considered the consensus best choice. Because he is so clearly the best choice, he will not come cheaply.
Scutaro likely will require a team to commit to signing him for two and perhaps even three years, and because he is a Type A free agent who was offered arbitration by the Blue Jays, he also will cost the club that signs him a draft pick.
(The idea of losing a draft pick, however, became slightly more palatable for the Sox last night, since reliever Billy Wagner reportedly has reached an agreement with the Braves that likely will net Boston two of the top 40 picks of the 2010 draft.)
While the free agent class of shortstops is extremely weak beyond Scutaro, there would appear to be a greater wealth of palatable options at second base, including Orlando Hudson, Placido Polanco, Felipe Lopez, Adam Kennedy and Craig Counsell. None of those players would require the Sox to sacrifice a draft pick, making all of them, in at least one respect, more attractive to Boston than Scutaro.
WEEI.com confirmed with a baseball source that the Sox are one of about five or six teams that have expressed interest in Kennedy (first reported by the Boston Herald), whose opposite-field stroke would make him a potentially promising fit for Fenway Park.
IF PEDROIA IS A SHORTSTOP, MIKE LOWELL’S RANGE COULD BE AN ISSUE
The idea is now well documented. Mike Lowell’s range was devastated in 2009 by his recovery from right hip surgery. He went from being a well above-average third baseman to a well below-average one, at least in terms of his ability to make plays on balls.
Pedroia would be a steadying influence at virtually any position. But given that he would not be a shortstop with above-average range, the idea of pairing him with Lowell on the left side of the infield would be suspect.
Some bounceback in Lowell’s range should be expected for 2010. Still, it would be hard for the Sox — a team that has expressed a repeated desire to improve its defense this offseason — to have two infielders with below-average range (even with their tremendous reliability) on the left side of the diamond.
THE RED SOX HAVE TAKEN RISKS AT SHORTSTOP BEFORE
His range was inadequate, and his arm too weak to play shortstop.
That was the common refrain about Jed Lowrie as he came up in the Red Sox system. Lowrie played second base in college before his conversion to the other, more challenging side of the bag in the majors. Among scouts, it was common to hear the suggestion that Lowrie’s defense made for an inevitable transition to second base.
Indeed, there were plenty of voices who joined that chorus in the Red Sox organization.
“There was concern voiced about Jed’s ability to stay at short long term. It was concern based on good information, sound, subjective evaluation. I saw some of those concerns myself,” assistant general manager Ben Cherington said a year ago. “It would have been really easy to go down a path of moving Jed Lowrie to second base because it was a safer place for him to play.”
But rather than accept those scouting reports in a vacuum, the Sox approached the matter somewhat more philosophically. It’s part of what the front office, under the leadership of GM Theo Epstein, does: It challenges assumptions and tries to examine an issue from every possible angle. And the issue of Lowrie’s future position was a part of that.
“Due to the culture that was created, we had enough people challenging that opinion, saying that just because this guy didn’t look like the flashiest, smoothest defender who makes highlight-reel plays on Field 3 during spring training, does that actually mean he can’t play shortstop in the big leagues?” Cherington recalled of conversations that took place in 2006. “What does it take to play shortstop in the big leagues? What does it mean to be an above-average shortstop in the big leagues? How would he compare to those guys if he was on the same field, in the same lineup, in the same league?”
Ultimately, the Sox kept Lowrie at short. They benefited significantly in 2008, when despite his lack of highlight-reel athleticism, the rookie rated as one of the best defensive shortstops in the majors (at least according to most advanced defensive metrics) after his call-up.
“[Lowrie] didn’t [move], and two years later, when we needed a shortstop [in 2008], he was able to come up and help us get into the playoffs,” Cherington said after that season. “As a shortstop, he has more value to us, more value to the industry, more value to himself.”
While much of Lowrie’s 2009 season was lost to injury, the fact that the Sox would have turned to him as their starting shortstop — and that the team continues to view him as a player who can still be a starting big league shortstop if he remains healthy — is telling.