NEW YORK -- On the day that Dustin Pedroia signed his Red Sox-for-life contract, principal owner John Henry evoked a notion to which he'd been introduced by his former manager.
"Tito used to say, 'If I had nine Dustins, we'd win every game,' " Henry mused.
The Sox are taking steps toward testing that proposition, a notion that became evident for the first time in the team's 8-5 victory over the Yankees on Sunday night.
The Red Sox' mid-year roster remake has become a fascinating thing to behold. It's as if the team charged the farm system with manufacturing players built, in a way, in Pedroia's likeness, making the decision to spread them out across the field to accommodate the fact that second base is accounted for over the rest of the decade.
When the Red Sox committed to signing Pedroia to an eight-year, $110 million deal last season, they essentially put up a screaming neon "No vacancy" sign at second base -- at a time when Mookie Betts was starting to assert himself as one of the more intriguing prospects in the minors, albeit just days into the then-20-year-old's High-A career. He understood the implications and was more than happy to confront the consequences.
"If I were the Red Sox, I would sign Pedroia the same way -- he's a great guy, great player and he's a franchise guy," Betts explained earlier this year. "As far as me, all I can do is try to make it whether it be second base, shortstop, third base, catch, however -- I just want to make it. It doesn't matter to me where I play."
Of course, even before the extension was signed, there was an understanding that Pedroia wasn't going anywhere for a while. And so when Brock Holt -- a middle infielder during his minor league career who played second base in his big league debut with the Pirates in 2012 -- joined the Red Sox in a trade in December 2012, he knew that his big league future with his new club was dependent upon his ability to play elsewhere.
"Absolutely, that's one of the first things you think. But I was excited to have the opportunity to play with him," said Holt. "[He's] someone I watched even before I was here and looked up to, enjoyed the way he played. You want to play like he does -- he plays hard, loves the game and you see how much he loves it. Getting to be on the same team as him, watching him on a daily basis, it's helped me tremendously. It's definitely good to have him on our side."
That much is once again becoming evident as Pedroia, mired in a struggle for most of the year, is showing signs of a potential pivot point in his season. He singled in each of his final three at-bats against Masahiro Tanaka on Saturday night, then singled in each of his first three plate appearances on Sunday, going on to add a sac fly and a walk, driving in three runs.
The two games marked the 14th time in Pedroia's career that he's had three-plus hits in at least two straight games, but it's the first such instance in 2014. He boosted his line for the season to a .275 average with a .345 OBP and .383 slugging mark -- all still well below career norms (.300/.368/.448), but in Pedroia's eyes, a start toward an ultimate destination in line with his typical production.
Asked if he views these two games as the point of departure for a hot streak, Pedroia smirked at his inquisitor.
"You’ve been around long enough, what do you think? You know. They’re coming," he said. "After 162 games, I'll be right where I'm normally at."
If that happens, it would represent a potentially transformative development for a Red Sox team that has spent most of the year unable to find any kind of offensive rhythm. But in this case, familiar production from Pedroia could come with some unusual accomplices.
For years, Pedroia has represented something of a physical freak, an undersized player who looked like a Little Leaguer who snuck into a big league team photo but whose production belied his 5-foot-8 stature. But now, he represents a template for the Sox rather than the defiance thereof.
Holt, listed at 5-foot-10 and 185 pounds, and Betts, listed at 5-foot-9 while weighing 175 pounds (he's added considerable muscle since the time that he turned pro at his listed weight of 156 pounds), give Pedroia a core group of teammates whom he can stare in the eye. And both, in another respect, look up to him.
"It's amazing getting to watch him," said Betts. "Just to know that I'm here with him now, it's a great feeling."
"He's been one of the best since he started playing in the big leagues. If he's not doing it offensively, he's going to do something defensively to help you win a game," added Holt. "It's been a privilege to share the locker room, clubhouse and everything with him."
It is one thing to share a clubhouse, another to share the ability to impact the game in a number of ways.
Both Holt and Betts have offensive track records that exceed the natural expectations that go with their size. The duo possesses the hand-eye coordination to allow them to minimize strikeouts while hitting the ball hard (and, in Betts' case, delivering the kind of surprising pop in his minor league career that has characterized Pedroia's big league time) with the athleticism and speed to make an impact both in the field and on the bases.
Holt, the emergent super-utility roster duct tape, played third base and went 1-for-3 with a pair of walks and a pair of runs. He's now hitting .321 with a .369 OBP and .449 slugging mark and arguably has been the Sox' most valuable player since becoming a lineup mainstay in mid-May.
Those traits weren't necessarily all on display for Betts in his big league debut on Sunday as he went 1-for-3 with a single and a walk, got caught stealing (thanks to a bit of a slip after getting a good jump) and offered a reminder that he's a work in progress in right field when he dove unsuccessfully for a triple from Ichiro Suzuki in the fifth inning. But he has a track record at five stops over the last 15 months of being the kind of dynamic, Pedroia-ish player.
Both Holt and Betts changed positions because of Pedroia. But now, their Pedroia-ish potential -- combined with the athleticism to permit them to bounce to different positions -- is what the Red Sox are relying upon to help kick-start their aspirations of contention.
"It's very valuable. The more versatile you are, the better chance you have of helping out a team," said Holt. "Fortunately I've been able to move around, help out where I can and when I can. Now Mookie, he'd been a second baseman moving to the outfield, he's a good offensive player, gives a good at-bat, controls the strike zone, and it's going to be good to have him in the lineup."
Of course, Holt and Betts have limited big league track records, and so it's difficult to know exactly what they will deliver for the Sox going forward. Both have brought short-term injections of life into a team desperate for the same, but the Sox acknowledge that they can't predict the nature of their transitions to the big leagues.
Pedroia, at least in theory, is different. Players whose production is believed to be an open question don't get signed to eight-year contracts. The Sox front office and players didn't have doubts about the kind of impact Pedroia would be able to make for years when he signed the deal; despite his struggles to date this year and the somewhat ominous four-year trends lines with his slugging percentage, the team likewise has few doubts about what he'll deliver going forward, particularly given the different paths he has to making a difference on the field.
"He's a guy that you give him an open-end contract," said Jonny Gomes. "He's going to walk when he's done. He's not going to be a guy sticking around to make a whole bunch of money right to the end. He's going to play 'til they rip it off his back, but at the same time, he's going to know when it's time -- like on the other side with [Derek] Jeter. He's not asking for a one- or two-year [extension]. He's, 'I've maxed out my ability and I don't want to limp away from this. I want to go out with guns blazing.' Those are two unique players.
"I always thought the day I made it to the big leagues in 2003 and even before, I always thought, 'My gosh, who's going to play short for the Yankees when [Jeter's] not there?' " added Gomes. "That's the same here -- 'My gosh, who's going to play second here after him?' We're so far removed from that. It's going to be a weird day."
It's one that won't be contemplated for some time. And so, second basemen in the system recognize the obvious. They'll be moving elsewhere if they hope to join Pedroia with the Red Sox, just as Holt and Betts have done.
Yet for those same second basemen, particularly undersized ones (like Sean Coyle, the 5-foot-8 player who is destroying the ball in Double-A Portland), there's also an intriguing implication to the emergences of Betts and Holt: They are not blocked. They simply must show the ability to adapt.
After all, the team still has room in its lineup for about six more Pedroias.