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Dodgers GM Ned Colletti recently said this about Carl Crawford:
“He’s still a dynamic player… A couple of years ago, he was one of the most sought-after free agents in the game for good reason. People in Tampa saw it a lot. People in the AL East saw it a lot — a combination of abilities not many players have. In this league, the ability to hit and steal, doubles and triples — this is a tough park for home runs sometimes — his ability to create things offensively with speed and ability to hit.”
After a tumultuous season and a half with the Red Sox in which Crawford managed to appear in only 161 games, he was shipped off to Los Angeles in the Red Sox major salary dump last August. When the Red Sox first moved to sign Carl Crawford, there were plenty of doubters in Boston who had no clue why their hometown team went out to get a guy almost equivalent in skill to Jacoby Ellsbury.
The questions about him certainly followed, especially after Joe Maddon hinted at a lingering injury that Tampa had known about, which was a driving force as to why they did not pursue their star player who had just come in seventh in the MVP voting. Where was he going to fit in an already potent lineup? Why is his speed and fielding ability being wasted in left field at Fenway, a position previously mastered by many less-than-elite athletes (read Manny Ramirez)? Would he be able to hold up for a full season? Why sign a speed player to seven years when he is getting into his thirties? All of these were valid points, but for a Red Sox team that was itching to make a big splash, Crawford was their guy. On top of the big name, he had been immensely successful in the AL East during his years at Tampa, especially in Fenway Park.
Personally, I am a huge Carl Crawford supporter. I believe that he got a bad rap in this town, and it was pretty undeserved. To me, it was the same situation as J.D. Drew, and to a degree, John Lackey (he has actually been horrible though). With the way the Red Sox spent during that time period, I don’t believe that anyone really “lived up” to the contract they signed, but when Larry Lucchino comes knocking at your door with an eight-to-nine figure contract to play in a great baseball town, how can you say no?
Sure, Drew may have looked disinterested at times, but that was just how he carried himself. He manned an above-average defensive right field (only 13 errors in his Red Sox career coupled with 18 assists) at Fenway Park (no easy task) and “effortlessly” managed an excellent OBP nearly every season in Boston (he reached .408 in 2008 while winning the All-Star MVP!). And yet, people still label him as underwhelming and overpaid.
Crawford’s deal actually made Drew’s look like a bargain. Was Crawford going to live up to twenty million dollars per year for every year of the deal? Absolutely not, but he wasn’t going to say no to the money being offered. A good barometer for what could likely have happened with the Crawford deal can be found over in New York, where the Yankees paid Alex Rodriguez a lot of money to sit on the bench during the American League Championship Series.
In the end, I think that the contract Crawford signed actually hurt his overall ability on the field. He spent so much time worrying about justifying to fans that he was worth it that his play suffered. In his first season, he was a misfit in the lineup, constantly being bounced around. The team already had established players in the 1-5 spots in the lineup (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ortiz). It would be argued that Youkilis wasn’t a stereotypical cleanup hitter, but how could you shift that around to get Crawford in a spot he was comfortable in? To me, it feels like Crawford was the only man on the 2011-2012 Red Sox team that took any kind of accountability for his failures and strove to improve on himself.
When healthy, Crawford is absolutely still a dynamic player; he gives you above average speed (if not still elite) in the outfield and on the base paths. When he gets on first, you can see the whole approach of an opposing pitcher change. Sure, I wish he wouldn’t have been so hesitant to steal a bag when he was with the Red Sox, but his mere presence on first gave a pitcher enough to think about that he could make a mistake to the next guy. Once recovered from Tommy John Surgery, Crawford will be slotted into the top of the Dodgers lineup, a place where he will be immediately comfortable. I think the Red Sox made a mistake when they signed him for as much as they did, but I did believe in the player, and I still do. Moving to a home park not as fit for hitting home runs, Crawford should be able to relax a bit about hitting home runs and get back to playing his game: being a dynamic, flashy player, who can change the game with his legs.
In hindsight, would I have rather given Crawford’s money to Adrian Beltre to keep him at third? One hundred percent yes, but that does not mean Crawford is done. He’s still got it, but he was not the right fit for Boston.
Statistics courtesy of BaseballReference.com