According the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham and Nick Cafardo, Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia is on the verge of taking action to repair a sore knee that has plagued him all season. Namely, Pedroia may be preparing to go under the knife in an effort to fix his injured right knee.
Pedroia plans to return to Boston today to have and examination, and if he does elect to go through with the surgery it could sideline him for a month. But as with any surgical procedure, that timetable is only a best estimate.
It seems clear that the injury is affecting Pedroia’s performance. Limping through a virtual season-long slump, the former MVP is in the process of putting up his worst numbers since making a brief 31-game debut in 2006. Neither Pedroia nor the can team carry on this way.
After posting impressively consistent OPS totals of .869, .823, .819 and .860 over the past four years, Pedroia’s current total stands at a paltry .695. He’s batting only .246 and his production has tanked. Pedroia has already struck out more this season (39 times) than he did in 75 games last year.
The hope is that surgery will eliminate the pain, which will get his mechanics back on track. As Pedroia himself put it, “It’s hard to hit with something wrong with your legs.”
The question is, how should Boston proceed in his absence? Let’s run through the potential changes, beginning with the most obvious and most likely solution.
Have Jed Lowrie Take over at Second
Boston’s first course of action would be to shift Jed Lowrie to second base and re-establish Marco Scutaro as the starting shortstop. The duo currently splits time at short, and Lowrie performed admirably in assuming a full-time role while Scutaro was shelved with an oblique problem.
Sctuaro is now healthy and back in the lineup, and the Red Sox can easily discontinue the platoon to free up Lowrie. However, this solution is not without its drawbacks.
Lowrie is nursing a sore shoulder suffered in a May collision with teammate Carl Crawford. A recent MRI showed structural damage, and Lowrie had been cleared to continue playing. But lingering shoulder soreness is something that must be monitored.
In addition, Lowrie’s bat has cooled significantly since his blistering April. The first month of the year Lowrie posted a .962 OPS in 21 games. But since then, his numbers have fallen dramatically. In May, his OPS was only .689 and through four games in June, he’s sporting a lowly .433. Cumulatively, that has translated to a very average .767 along with three homers and 23 RBI in 50 games.
Lowrie has a good glove and the Boston lineup is strong enough to withstand his lack of production. Just the same, the team may find itself in need of alternatives as the season moves on.
Platoon Lowrie with Drew Sutton
A less attractive option would be to rotate Lowrie, Scutaro and utilityman Drew Sutton between the two middle infield spots. The reality is that none of these three is a particularly strong play at the moment; Scutaro has a weak .618 OPS and is batting .236 through his first 24 games while Sutton (.679, .250) has fared little better in spot-start duty.
While it would be preferable to name starters and stick with them, the team might not be able to follow through on that plan if these infielder can’t produce. Continued struggles would likely mean some kind of platoon situation, though it’s hard to see how that would be much of an improvement.
If things get bad enough, the Red Sox will have to make more aggressive moves.
Recall Jose Iglesias
Boston’s shortstop of the future was up for a cup of coffee in May. He stuck with the club for six games, but had one start and only four at bats. Iglesias didn’t register a hit, though he did score his first two big league runs.
If Boston is unable to make things work with Lowrie, Sutton and Scutaro, the team may elect to bring Iglesias back. But while Iglesias would bring a strong defensive presence, there would be a major problem with this move.
The reality is that the 21 year old isn’t even ready for AAA Pawtucket, much less The Show. Iglesias may never develop into a great hitter, but the Sox need him to be a contributor at the very least. In 40 games with the PawSox, Iglesias has a .287 on-base percentage and a .537 OPS. Simply put, his offense just isn’t there yet.
In fact, he’s struggled at the dish ever since being promoted from Low-A Lowell midway through 2010. Ideally, Iglesias should probably head back to AA Portland to work on his offense. He’s not a good solution for Boston’s Pedroia problem.
If there is to be a callup, it should probably be Yamaico Navarro.
Call Up Yamaico Navarro
Navarro, a 23 year old shortstop, enjoyed a couple of stints with the club last season. He did next to nothing offensively, posting a microscopic .317 OPS in 42 at bats. But he was really there as an extra body, and his infrequent playing time didn’t give him much of a chance to get comfortable.
At Pawtucket, it’s been a different story. In 23 games with the PawSox this year, Navarro is hitting a robust .329 with 19 runs scored and 12 RBI. His 1.047 OPS is the team’s second best behind only Darnell McDonald.
Navarro is continuing to develop after posting an .867 OPS in 16 games with the PawSox last year, and he could be ready for another audition at Fenway. It’s not realistic to think he’ll step in an contribute immediately, but he should be able to fill in as needed without being a liability. And aside from Iglesias, he’s probably the only internal option the Red Sox have.
So if the club doesn’t bring him up, it could seek answers outside the organization.
Sign Free Agent Bill Hall
We all know that Bill Hall’s batting average will be ugly. He hit only .224 in 46 games with the Astros before being designated for assignment last month. After clearing waivers and receiving his release, Hall is once again a free agent awaiting a call.
Despite his poor hitting, Hall isn’t without upside. Last season with the Red Sox he appeared in 120 games and posted an OPS of .772. That was slightly better than league average and, frankly, is comparable to what the Sox are getting from Lowrie and Scutaro.
More importantly, Hall smacked 18 home runs in 344 at bats. He has demonstrated that he can produce in Fenway and has some familiarity with the team. His defense isn’t the greatest, but if the price is right, Boston could do far worse.
Don’t be shocked to see Hall rejoin the team as a utility player, especially given his ability to play both the infield and outfield. But if the team elects to avoid the free agent pool, there are still other options.
Find a Trading Partner Like the Minnesota Twins
At the start of the 2011, Minnesota’s lineup was pretty clear. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka was slated to be the team’s starting second baseman, and was…for six games. He suffered a leg fracture in April and has been sidelined ever since.
Now, however, Nishioka is playing in a rehab assignment at High-A Fort Meyers. If all goes well he’ll stop briefly in AAA Rochester before returning to big league action, and by all accounts that return is not far off. Once he’s back, the Twins will have a true logjam in the middle.
In addition to Nishioka the team has Matt Tolbert, Alexei Casilla, Luke Hughes and Trevor Plouffe, all under the age of 30. None of them have been particularly good offensively, but ongoing platoons and uncertainty over playing time have likely skewed their numbers.
The Twins also have some other intriguing players, such as former starter Kevin Slowey and everyone’s favorite trade bait, Francisco Liriano. It’s not out of the question to think that Boston and Minnesota could work out a trade package that would bring middle infield help, and possibly an arm, to Boston.
The Kansas City Royals are another team with infield depth; Chris Getz, Wilson Betemit, Alcides Escobar and Mike Aviles have been rotating among second, third and short. But with the possibility of third base prospect Mike Moustakas making his debut in 2011, K.C. might just find itself overstaffed.
Whatever Happens, Bat Carl Crawford Second
Back in December, Francona talked about where the newly-acquired Crawford might bat in the order, saying, “I’ll sit down with Carl, I’ll sit down with Pedey. Obviously, he’s going to hit somewhere in the top of the order, second or third. But we want to have some balance, as much as we can, with Adrian and Youk following and David (Ortiz) and J.D. (Drew). There’s some things to think about.”
Obviously, things didn’t go according to plan. Crawford stumbled through and abysmal April before turning things around in May. But as he heated up, the Sox were left with a bit of adilemma. Where exactly would a healthy and productive Crawford fit in this monster lineup?
Pedroia’s injury would provide a clear, if temporary, answer. Crawford has spent most of the year hitting sixth, seventh and eighth. That will all change. His May OPS of .810 along with a .304 batting average indicates that his slump is well and truly over, and a hot-hitting Crawford is tailor-made for the two-hole.
Look for Boston’s lineup, without Pedroia, to be Ellsbury-Crawford-Gonzalez. And don’t expect much of a drop-off in production from the top of the order.