Reimer: Dustin Pedroia should feel no shame about collecting millions from Red Sox during futile rehab

Alex Reimer
May 28, 2019 - 2:22 pm

Dustin Pedroia does not sound confident about his chances of returning to the Red Sox. But assuming he would still like to wear the red stirrups, he should attempt to rehab for as long as he wants, no matter how sad or futile the process becomes. Including this season, John Henry still owes Pedroia $40 million through 2021. 

He should try to collect all of that money, if he feels so inclined. Power to the player. 

MLB often touts its young stars, but the truth is, the league possess a draconian stranglehold on their earning capabilities. For each of the first three years of their careers, players are paid around the league minimum, and usually not much more. Then they enter arbitration for each of the ensuing three years, before finally being allowed to reach the open market.

While lots of money can be rewarded in arbitration –– the Red Sox and Mookie Betts agreed to a salary of $20 million for this season in order to avoid the process –– the pay varies year-to-year. If Betts keeps up his current pace, he would be in position to make significantly less money next season than he is now.

People don’t usually respond kindly to pay cuts.

This arrangement worked out OK in previous eras, because veteran players regularly netted bloated contracts in free agency, which essentially paid them for previous performance. But now teams realize the absurdity of that practice, and largely abstain from giving players in their 30s massive multi-year commitments. That is why Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel remain free agents on May 28. 

In short: the players are now getting screwed. The good ones are playing at dramatically undervalued rates early in their careers and not recouping their lost wages on the back end. Aaron Judge, for example, was worth $71 million to the Yankees last season, according to a metric called Revenue Above Replacement. But his salary was just $622,300. 

This season, Judge is making $684,330. His $1.3 million signing bonus doesn’t close the discrepancy at all.

With those gross inequities in mind, Pedroia should not feel guilty about getting paid tens of millions of dollars to take swings in batting cages. It certainly seems like his career is over –– yesterday’s impromptu press conference sounded more ominous than a grim-faced news anchor trying to keep your attention until after the break. 

“It’s to a point now where my knee is not allowing me to play everyday,” Pedroia told reporters. "It’s taken a while to realize that and I’ve tried so many things, from braces to orthotics to rehab methods to seeing different doctors, to every type of treatment possible. So I’m at a point right now where I need some time, and that’s where my status is."

The Red Sox placed Pedroia on the 60-day injured list and said there’s no timetable for his return. The one-time MVP was last seen struggling to survive a brief stint in Pawtucket, where he was placed after he had halted his latest rehab assignment. 

Pedroia, who’s appeared in just nine games since getting surgery on his chronically injured left knee in October 2017, is collecting the equivalent of backpay right now. He’s produced $327.5 million in value for the Red Sox, per Fangraphs, while earning just $103.4 million so far. The extra $40 million is a small monetary gesture of goodwill, when you frame it in those terms.

Yes, Pedroia is the one who decided to sign an 8-year, $110 million extension in 2013, opposed to landing a much larger deal in free agency. Robinson Cano, his contemporary, inked a 10-year deal worth $240 million the following winter. 

While Pedroia likely wouldn’t have broken $200 million, it’s fair to say he left a considerable amount of money on the table, and probably far more than $40 million.

The Little Leader has become a bit loathsome in recent years: his nauseating leadership lecture after David Price yelled at Dennis Eckersley on the plane, distancing himself from the Manny Machado incident, the general sourpuss demeanor. But he was still one of this team’s lynchpins for its renaissance post-04 period, when it won two additional championships over the next decade. 

There’s nothing wrong with Pedroia taking what he’s earned, even if he spends his final baseball days limping off the bench for the WooSox.