Bad news for Boston: On Wednesday afternoon, the team announced that second baseman Dustin Pedroia has undergone surgery on his left knee that will sideline him for the next seven months. The procedure—a cartilage restoration—is the latest bit of unwelcome offseason medical news for the Red Sox, as Pedroia joined Hanley Ramirez and Eduardo Rodriguez in recently going under the knife, and will leave the team without the four-time All-Star and former MVP for at least the first two months of the regular season, and likely longer.
The knee injury is one that Pedroia battled all of last season and which resulted in two separate trips to the disabled list, limiting to 105 games on the year. It also clearly affected his productivity, as he posted the second-lowest full-season slugging percentage (.392) and OPS+ (101) of his 12-year career and homered just seven times, then went just 2-for-16 in the Division Series against the Astros. The surgery doesn't come as a surprise: Earlier this month, Pedroia told reporters that he was considering having a significant procedure done on his knee (he underwent arthroscopic surgery in 2016) to fix the problem.
With Pedroia out of the picture until at least the end of May, the Red Sox now need to find a starting solution at second base for the first chunk of the season. The depth chart at the position is thin: Eduardo Nuñez drew the bulk of the starts at second in Pedroia's place down the stretch after being acquired from the Giants, but he's a free agent. Brock Holt is the next man up, but the former All-Star was miserable when called upon last season, hitting .200/.305/.243. Behind him are Josh Rutledge, Deven Marrero and Tzu-Wei Lin—all decent minor leaguers, but certainly not players that a contending team wants to roll with unless there's no other solution.
The free-agent market won't offer much help, though. Almost every available option is on the wrong side of 30, including Nuñez (who will turn 31 in 2018). Veterans like Neil Walker, Brandon Phillips and Chase Utley represent the best of a bad lot, but none are well suited for regular playing time due to age, performance or proclivity for injury. A trade for someone like Oakland's Jed Lowrie may be a better bet, especially given his ability to play multiple positions once Pedroia is back.
Then again, there's no guarantee that Pedroia will return for the 2018 season, or that he'll be back to his old self if he does. Last year marked the second out of the last three in which Pedroia was hampered by injuries, and at 34, it's worth wondering if seasons of 100 or so games will be the norm going forward. That presents a whole new issue for Boston, which still owes Pedroia another $60 million over the next four seasons. The team also doesn't have a ready replacement in-house going forward, as the farm system lacks an impact middle infielder anywhere close to the majors.
Simply put, Pedroia's surgery throws an unpleasant wrinkle into Boston's offseason plans and may force the team to accelerate its own timeline with regards to replacing him long-term. Heading into his third winter running the team, Dave Dombrowski will have to get creative to fill this sizable roster hole.