He'd done it before.
Dustin Pedroia's landmark contract with the Red Sox -- an eight-year, $110 million deal that is valued (due to deferrals) by Major League Baseball at $13.2 million per season -- represents a striking demonstration of a player's values. Had Pedroia waited until this offseason, when he still would have been two years from free agency, to discuss a contract extension with the Sox, he could have faced a different financial landscape once Robinson Cano reset the bar for the financial worth of second basemen. Cano is expected to clear the current standard set by Ian Kinsler, a $15 million-a-year pact, by $5 million or even $10 million a year.
Pedroia could have insisted that he be paid more than Kinsler. The Rangers second baseman signed a five-year, $75 million deal last season.
"I'm not here to set markets or do anything like that. I want to make sure that the team I'm on wins more games than the other team's second baseman," Pedroia said at the press conference to announce his deal. "That's the way I look at it. Our job is to win games, and that's what I play for."
His contract reflects that fact. Yes, there were financial standards that had to be met. Pedroia, after all, is getting a nine-figure deal. But once the $100 million barrier was crossed, Pedroia's focus was on the length of the deal, both in an effort to position himself to become a Red Sox for life and in order to ensure that his average salary would not choke the team's payroll. Put another way: Pedroia was willing to take the sort of annual salary that the Sox paid last offseason to free agents Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster so that the team would not be saddled with the weight of deals like the ones given to Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.
Pedroia wanted to land a contract that made him a Red Sox for the rest of his career -- something he likely accomplished both due to the eight-year term of a deal that runs through his age 38 season and to the no-trade protection that he received -- but he also wanted to make sure that the deal leaves his team in good shape to make the other moves necessary to build a winner.
"I think that was important to Dustin," said Sox GM Ben Cherington. "Obviously, there had to be a certain total guarantee. It had to be significant. We knew we had to get into that range of where prominent franchise players are. But the length of the deal gives us a chance to build the best team every year. That was important to Dustin."
His intention in leaving money on the table was to permit the Sox to use the extra dollars to build a winner. He even structured the deal in a way was meant to avoid becoming a financial albatross at the end of the contract, with the peak value of the deal coming in 2018 ($16 million) followed by three seasons of diminished salaries ($15 million in 2019, his age 35 season; $13 million in 2020; $12 million in 2021) because he was mindful of the team's needs to get bang for its buck from an aging player.
"He didn’t want to be the contract albatross. He didn’t want to be the aging player that had a greater percentage of the payroll, limiting the team’s flexibility," said Seth Levinson, Pedroia's agent with ACES. "It was absolutely his direction."
Pat Murphy had seen this before. The former Arizona State coach, now the manager of the Triple-A Tucson Padres, learned early in Pedroia's college career that his star player prioritized winning over money.
Division 1 baseball programs are limited to 11.7 scholarship offers. After his freshman year at ASU, Pedroia -- mindful that the Sun Devils were in recruiting limbo while waiting to see which of their scholarship players would sign and which would return -- approached Murphy with a proposal.
"Dustin just walked in and -- he didn’t tell his parents, who were paying the bill -- but he just said, 'Hey whatever you need, you need my scholarship, take it. I just want to win,' " Murphy recalled by phone on Wednesday. "I think [his parents] were kind of shocked that Dustin was making those kinds of decisions for them, but I think they realized, hey, that’s our son, and I think they were 100 percent behind it, too."
Murphy ended up using Pedroia's scholarship, with the coach suggesting that he was able to recruit outfielder Colin Curtis -- who helped lead ASU to the College World Series semifinals in 2005, a year during which all of the Arizona State players wrote the initials "D.P." under the bill of their caps in homage to Pedroia, then in the Sox farm system -- with the money. Given that history, Murphy was utterly unsurprised by the contract that Pedroia signed on Wednesday.
"Good thing that [the Red Sox] didn’t negotiate with Dustin. He would’ve signed for $5 million for five years. He just wants to play ball and take care of his family and take care of others," said Murphy. "He will earn his money and then some and I know the Red Sox know that. He will earn his money and then some. He's just as much about what MLB is about as much as anyone in the game and you'll never have a problem with him, you’ll never have anything but 100 percent.
"This is a great thing for Boston," Murphy added. "It’s the only place he wants to be. He's never considered what the money was, he’s never consider a trade, he’d never consider anything like that, he just wants to be in that town and bring championships to that town."
Pedroia made those priorities clear to his agents at ACES over a dinner in Kansas City in 2011. It was the player who, just days after turning 28, informed his representatives that he wanted to pursue a deal that would allow him to remain with the team that had drafted him in 2004 for the remainder of his playing days, that he valued stability and loyalty more than money.
It was Pedroia who articulated a set of values that rendered the pursuit of top dollar irrelevant. It was the second baseman who wanted to be a lifelong Red Sox and did not care that making such a commitment would compromise his potential earnings.
It was Pedroia's agents who had an obligation to tell him that he was insane.
"We explained to him that this is financial lunacy. To approach the club four years before free agency gives you little or no leverage," said Levinson. "[But] his prime directives all along have been two things: One, that he be treated fairly and with respect; and two, he play his entire career in Boston. This contract achieves both those ends. It was always his motivation, his drive, his quest and money was really never a factor."
Levinson and his brother, Sam, pointed out that in just a few months, Cano's contract will soon raise the industry value of star second baseman by millions. They also noted that since Kinsler's deal, Major League Baseball teams have enjoyed a tremendous windfall through increased TV revenues that have left the entire industry "flush with cash" at a time when there's a desperate scarcity of elite free agents. In pursuing a deal with the Red Sox now, Pedroia was leaving millions, and more likely tens of millions, on the table.
"It was financial lunacy to do the deal," Levinson continued. "It was irrelevant. He was unequivocal in all respects and consistently unequivocal. We went through a process of playing devil's advocate, being really difficult with him, so that any decision that he made, there would never be any regrets. He was firm. He was unequivocal. He was unquestioned. It was unquestionable to what his motivations were."
And even the agents, as they (along with Red Sox front office members and officials) were getting pushed off the field by Pedroia following the press conference so that he could take early batting practice, could hardly suppress their happiness for their client.
"I just told [Red Sox principal owner] John Henry, I told [CEO Larry Lucchino], there are some things in life that look right, that feel right, that just are right," said Levinson. "And this is one of them. It’s perfect."
It was a sentiment echoed by Pedroia. The second baseman wants to wear only one uniform in his career, and in doing so, he wants to make sure that he positions the Red Sox team that he represents to be in a position to excel. This contract was less about personal financial goals than it was about a team.
"I mean, it was a no-brainer to me. This was the place where they gave me the opportunity to play professional baseball. I want to make sure I do all I can to prove to those people that took a chance on me right," said Pedroia. "This place is the only place I've known since I started playing professional baseball. It's my home and I love every single part of being a Red Sox.
"I'll do all I can for the remainder of my time here to try to help us any way I can to do the right things on and off the field and bring an attitude that the Red Sox are going to try to win every single year and win our last game," he said. "I can't wait to be here and put on that uniform every day. It means the world to me to be with my teammates and try to represent this city the right way."