BOSTON -- When the 2018 Red Sox play their first regular-season game at Tropicana Field on March 29, they will have someone other than Dustin Pedroia at second base on Opening Day for the first time since 2006.
The good news is that this isn't the end of an era. The hope is that the 34-year-old Pedroia will have recovered enough from his left knee surgery to be back in late May or early June.
But it creates a question for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski of how best to fill the position until Pedroia comes back.
"I think we have enough internally, but I'm not going to preclude what we're going to do, because I don't know that," Dombrowski said. "It depends on what other options we might have."
Yes, this is now the Hot Stove season, which is when teams contemplate all of their options.
Here is a look at external and internal options to fill in for Pedroia.
Eduardo Nunez: He falls under this category because he is a free agent and is thus eligible to sign with any of the 30 big league teams. Nunez could be the perfect solution at second base to start the season, because he could serve the Red Sox well in a super-utility role once Pedroia returns. That is the role the Red Sox envisioned for Nunez when they traded for him last July, but he wound up spending most of his time filling in for the ailing Pedroia.
Until Nunez suffered a right knee injury of his own on Sept. 9, he thrived for Boston, posting a slash line of .321/.353/.539 with eight homers and 27 RBIs in 173 plate appearances. However, after such a strong season, Nunez could choose a team where he can be assured of holding down one position.
"We liked what he did," Dombrowski said. "I really can't say much more than that at this point."
Neil Walker: The switch-hitter is intriguing because of his ability to play first, second and third. The 32-year-old has the power to hit 15-20 homers, and the Red Sox are looking to add thump. Walker started 2017 with the Mets and finished it with the Brewers, putting together a combined slash line of .265/.362/.439 with 14 home runs in 385 at-bats. Walker hit 23 homers in '14 and '16. He has had some health problems, however, and underwent back surgery after the '16 season.
Chase Utley: The 38-year-old free agent was once a star for the Phillies, but he is a role player at this stage of his career. The left-handed hitter was comfortable in a leadership role for the Dodgers the past couple of years, and his voice could be steadying in an evolving Boston clubhouse. The hope would be for Utley to give the Red Sox a couple of solid months while filling in for Pedroia, and then he could become a valuable pinch-hitter after that. Utley had a tough postseason, going 0-for-15. But getting some regular at-bats could help him regain his groove offensively.
Marco Hernandez: Former Red Sox manager John Farrell often said last spring that Hernandez had the ability to be an everyday player. The way Boston's roster was set up, there was no everyday role for Hernandez, who wound up having left shoulder surgery that limited his season to 21 games. Hernandez can play second, short and third, and he's a left-handed hitter. If the Red Sox don't acquire a second baseman over the offseason, Hernandez is one of several internal candidates who could win the job with a strong showing in Spring Training.
Brock Holt: An All-Star as a utility player in 2015, Holt hasn't been able to perform at the same level the past two years. Much of that could have to do with a concussion he dealt with in '16, and then a lengthy bout with vertigo in '17. At his best, Holt is a solid offensive player but without much power. He has always been one of Boston's smartest baserunners and can play every position except pitcher and catcher. The 29-year-old Holt earned $1.95 million last season and is arbitration-eligible for the second time this offseason.
Deven Marrero: Defensively, Marrero is probably the best option the Red Sox will find on the market or in-house. Offense has never been his strong suit. The Red Sox could use Marrero as a platoon option with Holt or Hernandez at second until Pedroia gets back. He was solid against lefties last season, hitting .291 with four homers and a .944 OPS in 61 plate appearances.
Tzu-Wei Lin: There were many Red Sox fans who hadn't even heard of Lin until he was promoted from Double-A to the Majors in June. The left-handed hitter from Taiwan made some things happen in his limited playing time and showed off his speed with two triples. Lin is a solid defender with strong fundamentals in all aspects of the game. Realistically, he would probably be a backup if he makes the team.
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.