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So: is the Carl Crawford deal actually, you know, a good one?

Dec 9, 2010, 10:21 AM EDT

Tampa Bay Rays' Carl Crawford makes a sliding catch against the Seattle Mariners during the third inning of their MLB American League baseball game in St. Petersburg

The shock of the Carl Crawford signing cannot be overstated. Everyone assumed that the Angels had him locked up. The Red Sox really just swooped in at the last minute and destroyed the competition for the guy with those seven years and that $142 million. No, they didn’t literally swoop, but it was about as close to literally as it could be without Theo Epstein putting on a mask and cape and jumping from a chandelier and physically grabbing him.

After the shock came the Cold War analysis: what does this mean for the Yankees? What does this mean for the Red Sox? What does this mean for Cliff Lee?  We covered all of that already and it’s interesting, but for anyone who is not a Red Sox or Yankees fan, that is the most annoying aspect of all of this. Those teams were already at the center of the universe before this. They don’t need more light shined on them, frankly.

What people are only now starting to get their minds around is whether, you know, this is actually a good deal for Boston in terms of the money doled out and the production they can expect to receive.  My answer: it’s not terrible but it’s not particularly good either.

I’m not saying Carl Crawford is bad. Far from it. I like his game more than a lot of people, actually. I think his power increase is sustainable and that he’ll age better than a lot of the people who believe that when his legs go he’s done.  But I don’t think he’ll age well enough to justify these dollars and a contract of this length.

Crawford is a career .296/.337/.444 hitter, which puts his career OPS+ at 107.  Which is OK, because obviously a lot of his value comes on defense and on the base paths. But as David Pinto points out in an excellent post over at Baseball Musings, time stops for no man, especially men whose game is built on speed.  He has never hit more than 19 homers.  Once he stops being a force on the bases and loses a step or two in the outfield, even a spike up to 25-30 home runs a year won’t justify $20 million+ at the back end of this deal.

This is better than the Jayson Werth deal, but that’s somewhat faint praise. But to make it truly good, Crawford — who turned 29 back in August — will have to experience an uncommon elevation of his game as he enters his 30s.  Could it happen? Sure, and if there is anyone whose work ethic and competitive fire lends itself to such a thing it’s Carl Crawford.  But such career patterns don’t occur frequently, and I don’t think I’d bet on it happening with Carl Crawford.

But hey: it’s not my money and the next two or three years ought to be pretty sensational regardless.

  1. mangothefruit - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:39 AM

    All evidence has shown that players with Crawford’s skill set age better than players with an ‘old player’ skillset. This keeps being said but people keep ignoring it.

    Crawford has constantly, steadily improved in almost all areas of his game throughout him career and is just entering his prime. The 337 OPB people keep quoting is short-sighted. It includes his poor first couple of years when he was still a baby. It ignores the huge value he adds through his baserunning.

    Also, he’s not the slap-hitting speedster made him out to be. He had 62 extra-base hits last season at a rate well above the ML average.

    Also, according to BB-Ref, the two closest career comparables through age 28 are Roberto Clemente and Sam Crawford. I actually think there’s a good chance he could end up a HOF’er, and if the contract doesn’t handicap the Red Sox from doing other things, then it is a good thing.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:59 AM

      The 337 OPB people keep quoting is short-sighted. It includes his poor first couple of years when he was still a baby. It ignores the huge value he adds through his baserunning

      It’s not short sighted, even in his best two years he didn’t break a .365 OBP [which is fueled by a .305BA]. His career high in walks is 51, which is twelve short of Derek Jeter’s total last year when he a terrible year at the plate. Robinson Cano, who never met a pitch he didn’t like, had a career high 57 walks last year. It’s something to be concerned about. However, he’s not a Frency redux.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:38 PM

        .337 is a shortsighted number to quote because he hasn’t had an OBP that low since 2005, excepting the year he was hurt. And OBP, while the single most important part of offense, still doesn’t give you the whole picture, since it doesn’t take into account the pop he has or his excellent base-stealing and base-running. Despite a mere .356 OBP last year, he was the second-best LF in the AL and 6th best in the majors by wOBA, which takes baserunning and slugging into account. And that’s WITH wOBA heavily weighting OBP. And not taking defense into account, of course. By WAR, which does take defense into account, he was the third best LF in the majors last year, behind only Hamilton and Holliday.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:50 PM

        I agree Ari; however, part of the issue with a declining player is that almost everything you mentioned is based off his legs. He doesn’t have the batting eye that tends to survive as player’s age. He doesn’t walk a lot (see comment about a career high 51 walks). His OBP is fueled by his BA, and if that drops, so will his OBP.

        I meant to post this in my first comment, but this is one of those deals that he probably outperforms for four to five of the seven years, and then hopefully slightly underperforms for the remaining two or three. Problem is that if he has some sort of bad leg injury, his value is going to tank as his worth is in his legs.

  2. joshv02 - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Is this a good deal? No. Is it a market deal? Maybe, depending on your view of Crawford’s defense and how much you trust the numbers that UZR spits out. You have to assume he is a 5 WAR player with a very slight aging curve in the first few years, and a relatively strong salary inflation curve. Not unreasonable assumptions, but aggressive ones.

    But, citing the career numbers of a player who started when they were 20 isn’t useful. He’ll project to be a .360-.370 wOBA guy in most projections, so his .337 career OBP isn’t really that important anymore.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:13 PM

      Isn’t ‘elite defender in LF’ kind of an oxymoron? If they want max value, should he slide over to CF? Especially in Boston?

      This was the town that said Manny’s defense didn’t hurt them that much because of the size of the LF. SO I would have to say that the inverse is true as well, Crawford can’t help them that much in LF.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 2:06 PM

        You can definitely get lots of value from a defender as good as Crawford, even in LF. Even in Fenway’s LF. But yeah, he’d definitely be more valuable in CF (or even in Fenway’s spacious RF after Drew leaves!). Too bad that he has stated repeatedly that he dislikes playing CF.

      • joshv02 - Dec 9, 2010 at 2:08 PM

        Well, I disagreed with people who thought Manny’s defense didn’t hurt them that much, and I think the front office did, too. I don’t think that the smaller LFer changes things too much. After shifting to compensate (getting more balls in short left, more in center, and allowing Ellsbury to get more in the Triangle and in RF), I don’t assume that there is a large decrease in opportunities in left field.

        And they play 81 games outside of Fenway, too.

        But, yes, Crawford is more valuable for other teams b/c of his defense. And he’d be more valuable in CF than LF, but his outstanding defensive numbers (with by Total Zone – what BaseballReference uses — or UZR — what FanGraphs uses) took place in LF anyway. I don’t think its an oxymoran at all. A less efficient use of resources than possible? Sure. I agree with that.

  3. beantownsports247 - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Mangothefruit :

    I agree 100 % , this offense is about to be LETHAL , to say the least

  4. heiniemanush - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:47 AM

    I think you pretty much nailed it, Craig. Crawford might be worth the investment the first three or four years but it’s hard to tell what kind of player he will evolve into. I always thought he was a bit overrated but I chalk that up to my bitterness over owning him on a couple of fantasy teams when he had lackluster years. Nevertheless, a strong American League rival was going to give him that sort of salary anyway, so it made sense for the Red Sox to be proactive.

  5. Loren - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:57 AM

    It’s hard to evaluate the terms of the deal without knowing more about the financial state of the Red Sox and baseball in general. Sure, it seems like an overpay based on other (non-Werth) signings, but the Sox just got the best player available on the market and dramatically improved their team. Until we see evidence that they weren’t able to spend money on another player they wanted because of this deal, how can it be called bad? It’s possible that the Red Sox just have a lot more money available than we realize.

  6. Adam - Dec 9, 2010 at 10:59 AM

    What you also have to keep in mind is baseball contract inflation during this deal.

    By the end of Crawford’s deal I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 20 million dollar a year salary be fairly common among the pretty good players. And, in my opinion, Crawford will still be pretty good. His SLG last year was 495, which puts him 52nd among those with at least 100 AB (if you want to go up to 400 then he goes up to 38th). His power has definitely trended up, so if he maintains a 500 SLG and gets on base at his clip of 360 (which is where he’s hovered over the past few years), he’ll have an 860 OPS and stellar defense.

    And he’s moving from a ballpark with a 92 Park Factor to one with a 104. That will help as well.

  7. Old Gator - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    Sounds to me like John Henry just re-outfitted the Starship Free Enterprise and is setting out on another Borg hunt.

    • JBerardi - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:25 AM

      Going into the offseason, the big talk radio/hack sportswriter concern was that John Henry, having just spent nearly half a billion dollars on Liverpool FC, would be unwilling to spend any money on the Red Sox. Americans don’t understand how rich people work.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:53 AM

        Talk radio and sports”writers” like Shaughnessy don’t understand how ANYTHING works. There is literally nothing the Boston FO could do to convince these people they know what they’re doing. It’s like the two championships they’ve brought didn’t happen.

  8. flpunx - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Crawford was the top run producer for what was the league’s best offense for the first couple of months of the season. He is a playmaker who can turn a game in the field, at the plate, or on the bases. He is a complete player who understands what it means to be a part of a team working towards a greater cause. The deal was a great one for him, although I am kinda disappointed he went within the division. What will be more interesting is how he adapts to the spotlight automatically cast upon him just because he plays in Boston. I’ll be at the Trop to welcome him back June 14th, though!!!!!!!

  9. paperlions - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:06 AM

    If they play Crawford in LF, won’t that strip a lot of his value, at least 1/2 of which is his defense? Is he going to play a deep short to take away singles? With no room to roam out there, his speed will be wasted in LF.

  10. thinman61 - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:12 AM

    All complaints about JD Drew being overpaid can now be filed in /dev/null.

    • BC - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:28 AM

      +1

  11. primobang3000 - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    In regards to money, they are only paying Adrian 6.5 mil this year, and they got Lugo, Drew, Ortiz, Martinez and Lowell all coming off the books, freeing up a decent amount of money. I haven’t done the math, but I’m pretty sure that they will actually be spending about the same amount of money they were last year. The only thing they have to address now is some decent bullpen pitching and they should be really good.

    • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:19 AM

      They’re actually $15 million or so under where they were last year. But like you said, still need a couple ‘pen signings, plus maybe a bench bat or two.

      • BC - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:29 AM

        Well, they just sort of added to their bench, given that Cameron is likely going to be there.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:57 AM

        Excellent point. The only bench bat they’d probably add is Russel Martin, who could back up the corners and be the 3rd C. Still need one or two bullpen arms, and this actually improves their chances of getting them, since their original 1st round pick is already gone. Now it’d just be a 2nd round pick.

      • Charles Gates - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:01 PM

        Methinks Ellsbury gets packaged in a deal for Grienke.

      • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:08 PM

        Sox don’t have the pieces to get Grienke after the Gonzalez deal.

  12. Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/boston-signs-carl-crawford/

    Bill James proved that guys with Crawford’s skillset (tons of speed and defense with average pop) actually tend to age better into their 30s than guys who bulked up sluggers in their 20s. Part of losing a step is usually bulking up, leading to more power and patience. A 25-30 HR Crawford is likely to be worth $20 million even if he’s a merely-very-good instead of amazing LF.

    Whereas a guy who’s a big slow DH type in his 20s (think Dunn or Pronk) has no way to compensate when they get even bigger and lose some bat speed.

    • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Dec 9, 2010 at 2:30 PM

      Would Damon be a comparable as far as the aging process??

      • Ari Collins - Dec 9, 2010 at 2:43 PM

        Rany Jazayerli had a great article comparing the two when he was hoping his Royals would sign Crawford: http://www.ranyontheroyals.com/2010/12/my-winter-meetings-dream.html

  13. Jonny 5 - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:47 AM

    I don’t think it’s a good deal ,and I don’t think the Sox think it’s a good deal either. But they don’t care, and it kept the Yankees from getting him. If they want to compete with NY on the field, it’s obvious they’ll have to do it with their checkbooks as well. Someone was comparing the “glaring difference” between He and Werth, and I don’t see it as a huge jump myself. Werths OPS is usually higher, his OBP, SLG is too. So offensively it doesn’t make any sense. And Werth is no Defensive slouch himself, nor is he dead on the basepaths. Sure there are things that make him better than Werth, but it’s far from “glaring” and it seems to me the price Crawford got is high too.

    • Charles Gates - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:00 PM

      Born on date, bud.

      I just hope Pedroia gets a neck tatoo like Crawford’s, so we can have a First Team All Grit player with some street cred.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 9, 2010 at 1:08 PM

        Ha!!!!

    • primobang3000 - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:12 PM

      I’m not huge into sabermetrics, but I would bet that Werth’s offensive numbers were helped by playing in Philly with their smaller park. But, like you said, they surely didn’t want to pay that much, but they needed him and more importantly, they needed the Yankees to not have him. Its not my money, so spend away I say.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:27 PM

        2010 H/A
        Home – .320/.401/.599 (tOPS+ 116)
        Away – .270/.375/.463 (tOPS+ 84)

        2009 H/A
        Home – .265/.364/.513 (tOPS+ 101)
        Away – .274/.375/.498 (tOPS+ 99)

        Career H/A
        Home – .280/.369/.495 (tOPS+ 103)
        Away – .263/.364/.468 (tOPS+ 96)

        Most hit better at home, but he’s hit really well away as well.

      • Jonny 5 - Dec 9, 2010 at 12:42 PM

        Yeah, people like to think CBP is a bandbox, but typically the numbers don’t say that for any Philly player, But yeah the park is smaller. Maybe the bigger park gets you more triples too?? I’d bet Crawfords triples drop considerably this season. When the ball bounces back at a guy instead of getting further away fielding the hit.

      • spindervish - Dec 9, 2010 at 6:39 PM

        If I remember correctly, Fenway is considered one of the top triples parks in baseball. That triangle is a bitch.

  14. derpdederpdederp - Dec 9, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    sure this is not the best deal, or at least wont be in its final few years. however, the red sox dramatically improved their team for at least the next 3 or 4 years. in order to that that they had no choice but to overpay with a long term contract, thats just the reality of the free agent market now. whether or not it is worth it will be determined by what happens in the next 4 years, and while its definitely more than crawford (or probably any athlete playing a game) is worth it will definitely not be a bad deal for the red sox

  15. diamondduq - Dec 9, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    Here’s the bottom line…If the Yankees had made this deal what would people be saying? They’d be saying the Yankees grossly overpaid for yet another player to simply “buy” whomever they want. In comparison to the Werth deal this seems about right but it’s a terrible deal, actually with the deals being fairly accurate proportionally why wouldn’t this one receive the same scrutiny as the Werth deal? I actually understand the Nats overpaying so much, they have to entice players to go to a bad franchse but for Boston, it’s just a waste.

  16. Jack Marshall - Dec 9, 2010 at 1:15 PM

    If the Red Sox win two World Series Championships in the front end of the contract, nobody will say the back end wasn’t worth it. And he could age like Johnny Damon.

  17. psousa1 - Dec 9, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    No, signing Cliff Lee to a 7 year deal is not good. Signing Carl Crawford – good. Crawford is going to be much more productive in years 5-7 than Lee will be in years 5-7. Barring something unforseen He will still have Pedroia in front of him and Adrian Gonzalez behind him.

  18. spindervish - Dec 9, 2010 at 6:53 PM

    To anyone who might have a useful answer: What the hell is the deal with Crawford’s apparent refusal to play CF? It’s always bothered me; he’s a prototypical “5-tool” centerfielder, and he plays arguably the most worthless defensive position on the field. The only thing I’ve ever come up with is he wants to preserve his legs so he can rack up the SBs; the thing is, if this has been in the interest of maximizing his value as a FA, I’d have to believe he’d have been valued much higher as a plus centerfielder than “the best LF in the game.” That’s like being the smartest kid on the short bus.

    And if it’s just a stat grab thing with the SBs, how did the Rays, as progressive as their brain trust seems to be, put up with that shit? How has no one ever laid down the law and told him, “Look, SBs are cool and all, but they’re generally overrated, while optimizing defense is a crucial concern. You’re our CF, period”? I realize this was less of a concern recently with the emergence of BJ Upton, but before that they used Rocco Baldelli in center, and I believe between Baldelli and Upton they even went with Delmon Young in center at times. I really do not get this at all.

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