BOSTON -- If it's longevity you're looking for, there are better places than second base at Fenway Park to find it.
Incredibly, only one second baseman past the age of 35 in Red Sox history played in as many as 100 games in a season. That was one Oscar Donald "Ski" Melillo, who was 35 when he played 106 games for the Sox in 1935, then ceded his position a couple of years later to a promising newcomer, Bobby Doerr.
Doerr went on to the Hall of Fame. He also was done by the age of 33, his career abruptly ending due to chronic back pain.
By the age of 38, only three players appeared in even a single game at second base for the Red Sox: Eddie Joost, who was 39 when he played 56 games there in 1955; John McDonald, who was 38 when he played six games there in 2013; and Tom Carey, who played three games there at age 39 in 1946.
Not exactly the cheeriest context in which to place the news that Dustin Pedroia, Boston's 31-year-old second baseman, is about to undergo surgery Wednesday for a hand-related issue for the third consecutive season, a period in which his performance at the plate has understandably suffered. And Pedroia has seven years and $96.5 million left on the eight-year, $110 million contract extension he signed in July 2013, a deal that will take him through his 38th birthday.
Did the Red Sox bet on the wrong guy at the wrong position, especially at a time when they were under no compulsion to act? Pedroia, remember, still had two years left on his deal when the Sox tore up his existing contract and signed him to what was widely described as a team-friendly extension. It looked even better when Robinson Cano, whose own former Yankees teammate, Mariano Rivera, said was not Pedroia's equal, signed a 10-year, $240 million free-agent deal with the Seattle Mariners.
Set aside where you fall in the Pedroia vs. Cano debate. They are regarded as the two best second basemen in baseball, and the Red Sox signed Pedroia to roughly half of what Cano commanded from Seattle. For Pedroia, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino said at the time, the Sox were willing to make an exception to their stated aversion to signing players north of 30 to deals lasting more than four years, give or take a year.
But now, it would appear, Pedroia is a candidate to become exactly what the Sox were seeking to avoid: a player who last played a full season healthy in 2011, has had major operations on his thumb and foot and is now facing a procedure for a wrist injury of still-unannounced severity. He also admits to having aggravated the thumb injury, too.
Pedroia has played admirably, dare we say nobly, through injuries that would have sidelined players with less resolve to endure the pain -- one day, he may allow us to tally up the number of cortisone injections he's had in order to remain on the field -- but there has been an unmistakable impact on his play.
Pedroia this season has posted career lows for a season in which he's played at least 135 games in every meaningful offensive category: batting average, on-base, slugging, on-base plus slugging, runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases. His OPS in 2011, when he hit a career-high 21 home runs and stole 26 bases, was .861. This season, in which he finishes with seven home runs and six stolen bases, his OPS is .712. That ranks 11th among all everyday second basemen this season, 132 percentage points less than one-time archrival Cano (.844).
Pedroia now concedes what he has refused to acknowledge while playing through his injuries: They affected his swing.
"You don't have your hand strength, you're not able to follow through like you normally do," he said.
Pedroia is taking the position that by having surgery now, the recuperative period should be over in time for him to have a normal offseason of workouts, something he hasn't had since 2011. He is confident that he will regain the strength in his hand, and that will once again make him one of the most dangerous hitters in the Sox lineup, and in the game.
That certainly falls well within the realm of possible outcomes. A full recovery, and Pedroia could join the ranks of such outstanding second basemen as Craig Biggio, Jeff Kent, Lou Whitaker, Joe Morgan and Davey Lopes, all of whom remained productive, impactful players well into their late 30s and in some cases, beyond.
There has been no drop-off in his defense -- this season, he committed a career-low two errors in 654 chances while posting a defensive WAR of 2.4, highest in the American League. And Pedroia will be collecting Social Security checks before anyone detects a lessening of his extraordinary competitive will.
Yet, the very thing that sets him apart is also what makes him most vulnerable to a recurrence of the injuries that have made him a worse player than he was at his peak. Pedroia can play this game at only one speed. That's what defines him; take that away, you might as well snatch his bat and glove, too.
"Dustin plays the game as he's wired, and that's what makes him the great player that he is," Farrell said.
"If there's thought and they are playing more under control, does that thought put a guy in position physically for potential injury? That's debatable. He's going to play by his instincts. We would not ask Dustin to even think about changing those. Then I think you're disrupting the natural abilities of a player. That might be more detrimental than just playing all out."
The Sox have asked Pedroia to make small concessions, like no longer sliding head-first, which is how he tore the ligament in his thumb in the season opener in Yankee Stadium in 2013. Farrell acknowledged he has already spoken with Pedroia about taking more days off going forward, though he caught himself before uttering the word "older."
Instead, Farrell noted, "as a guy gets deeper into his career he might need that day off prior to an off-day to give him a couple of days of recovery time."
Pedroia has played nearly 1,200 games in the big leagues, including postseason. He has made almost 5,400 plate appearances, and played over 10,000 innings in the field. All at maximum effort. That exacts a toll.
Knowing Pedroia, he will shrug that off and say there is more, much more, to come. We shall see.