Around the Horn: Double-play duo a Sox strength

Pedroia-Bogaerts tandem gives Boston certainty in middle infield

Around the Horn: Double-play duo a Sox strength

With the start of Spring Training just a few weeks away, anticipation is building for the 2017 season. MLB.com is going around the horn to break down each area of the Red Sox, continuing with the middle infield.

Production on offense. Steadiness on defense. Intelligence and aggression on the bases. Season-to-season stability.

The Red Sox are fortunate to have all of those things in the middle of their infield, as second baseman Dustin Pedroia and shortstop Xander Bogaerts gear up for their fourth consecutive season as the double-play duo for manager John Farrell.

The tandem should be together for several more years. Pedroia, who has a very real chance to spend his entire career with the same team, is under contract through 2021. Bogaerts is under Boston's contractual control for three more seasons.

The Red Sox have more certainty in the middle infield that at any other portion of the lineup.

For the first time in years, Pedroia comes into camp following a relatively injury-free season. He had an arthroscopic procedure on his left knee in October, but that was a routine cleanup.

In 2016, Pedroia re-established himself as a durable two-way force. While making 698 plate appearances, he produced a slash line (.318/.376/.449) right out of his prime, including 36 doubles, 15 homers and 74 RBIs.

The laser show was in full force when Pedroia got a hit in 11 straight at-bats between Aug. 25-27. At 33 years old, he still has plenty left in the tank.

Pedroia's biggest improvement was on defense, where he regained his status as one of the best at second base, finishing as a finalist for the American League Gold Glove Award. He led AL second basemen with a 12.5 Ultimate Zone Rating, up from 2.1 the season before. He tied Ian Kinsler for the AL lead with 12 Defensive Runs Saved.

The reason for the resurgence was the improved health of a right hamstring injury that plagued Pedroia for several months in 2015.

Then there is Bogaerts, who is only entering his age-24 season. The one thing he lacked last season was consistency. He was one of the best hitters in the AL in the first half (.329/.388/.475), but he had a significant drop-off after the All-Star break (.253/.317/.412).

Fatigue may have been a factor, as Bogaerts played 157 games, a career high. The expectation is that he will learn from the half-to-half discrepancy and improve on it.

While Bogaerts and Pedroia should be nearly daily fixtures up the middle for the Red Sox, they also have a reliable backup in Brock Holt.

Not only can Holt make spot starts to give Bogaerts or Pedroia a break, but he's also capable of holding his own for an extended stint if either player sustains an injury.

The left-handed-hitting Holt started eight games at second and seven at short last year, but that was because of how much he was needed in the outfield. Look for the super-utility man to be used more in the infield in 2017. Josh Rutledge, a right-handed hitter, could also seem time at second and short.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.