Tomase: Last call for the Laser Show? On Dustin Pedroia's uncertain future

John Tomase
June 28, 2018 - 12:03 am

USA Today Sports

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The red flag Dave Dombrowski casually dropped on Dustin Pedroia last July could've covered the Green Monster on opening day.

"He has a bad knee that he's going to have to watch and we're going to have to watch for the rest of his career," Dombrowski said.

Wait, what? Even recognizing Pedroia's physical liabilities -- he kicks off most offseasons with surgery -- this qualified as a shock. Could one of his many injuries finally have turned chronic?

The ensuing year has seen the red flags pile up as if loosed from Bill Belichick's floppy socks. Last fall, Pedroia underwent a rare cartilage restoration in his left knee that would sideline him until Memorial Day but at least give him a chance to play in 2018. He went 1-for-11 in three games before returning to the DL on May 30. He has been limited by inflammation ever since, with no return in sight.

Both Red Sox manager Alex Cora and Dombrowski have addressed Pedroia's future this week, and neither sounded reassuring.

Cora said the team must look beyond this season to protect Pedroia's career. Dombrowski noted in a NESN interview that he'd be comfortable with the combo of Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez at second the rest of the way, and that was before striking a minor-league deal with three-time All-Star Brandon Phillips on Wednesday, when Cora also revealed that Pedroia will seek a follow-up exam in New York.

And so we're left to ask an uneasy question: is this it for Pedroia?

Ten years removed from his breakout MVP season, Pedroia is wearing down. He turns 35 in August and is reaching the age when bodies tend to betray, not mend. He's signed for three more years and $40 million, money which he frankly earned a long time ago.

But the longer he goes without playing, and the more we learn about the surgery he underwent last fall -- which just sent knuckleballer Steven Wright back to the disabled list, too -- the dicier his future feels.

"He's had good days, he comes in and feels great," Cora said on Tuesday. "But then the next day is not a great day so we're looking for him to have three or four days in a row where he feels good. It's frustrating for everybody, especially for him, but at the same time we'll take our time. It's not that we rush him. It looks like the minor league rehab was a short one, what he did in Fort Myers was a lot. And that workload was a lot. He was moving around. We were just talking about it. He scored from second in the first game he came back and was moving well. But hopefully when he comes back, it's for the rest of the season and also I think we have to make sure he's OK the rest of his career."

Dombrowski, meanwhile, noted his comfort level with alternatives at second base during an interview with NESN.

"At second base, I'd feel comfortable if you said Holt and Nunez are playing there for us the rest of the year," Dombrowski said. "Maybe they're not Dustin, but they can still do a solid job. Holt has really played well I think in this year, and Nunez has never played second base this much. He continues to get better from an offensive perspective. . . . I think between the two of them, they can handle it very well."

So where does that leave Pedroia? Cora told Dale & Keefe on Wednesday that he speaks to his former teammate on a daily basis and believes he'll overcome this latest setback.

"He understands where he's at now, what he went through last year," Cora said. "If he was able to wait seven months, one month or whatever it is won't be an issue for him. He just wants to come back and contribute."

We'd love to see it, because he played a central role in two championships. But with each reference to stubborn inflammation and second opinions and on-field alternatives, it sure feels like the Red Sox are preparing for life without Pedroia in the short term.

It's the long term that should really worry us.

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