BOSTON -- When Dustin Pedroia signed a six-year contract with the Red Sox on Wednesday that included a club option for 2015, perhaps he was serving as a leadoff hitter in a sense.
Now that Pedroia is in the fold for many years going forward, there's a chance other deals could be in the works for some of the club's other young stars.
First baseman Kevin Youkilis, closer Jonathan Papelbon and left-hander Jon Lester, much like Pedroia, have been the pride of the Red Sox's scouting and player development system. And like Pedroia, they've been big reasons the Red Sox played deep into October the past two years.
Youkilis and Papelbon are both arbitration-eligible this offseason. In the case of Youkilis, he is eligible for free agency following the 2010 season. Papelbon could become a free agent after '11. Lester? He gets his first crack at arbitration next winter, and could first become a free agent after '12.
Or perhaps it will never get to that point if what happened with Pedroia becomes a trend.
"We hope so," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "As I said the first day of the offseason, it was a goal of ours to sign certain players to long-term deals, but we weren't going to discuss who and we weren't going to discuss when or where. I'll just stick to that and say that Dustin is not the only player we're talking to this winter. But I think it is significant. Now that he's signed and he's here, maybe it can create some momentum."
Though there are still accomplished veterans in the fold -- from David Ortiz to Mike Lowell to Tim Wakefield and perhaps Jason Varitek if he re-signs -- the young guns have become a big part of Boston's success.
"[Pedroia's] part of this core of young players that we have moving forward," Epstein said. "He's one of the leaders of that core of young players that we have. I'd like to think that group is going to be together for a long time and win some championships for this city."
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.