The future of Carl Crawford

CRAWFORD’S STRIPES
I’ve seen some suggestions, both here in the comments and elsewhere, that the next Yankees left fielder should be Carl Crawford, MVP of last night’s All-Star Game. There is nothing wrong with dreaming about Crawford, who is a terrific, entertaining player, a burner on the bases and in the field. Yet, his path to the Bronx is far from assured.

ccrawford250_071509.jpgThe first problem with projecting Crawford in pinstripes is the assumption that he will be a free agent this winter. That is not necessarily the case. The Rays hold a $10 million club option. If they choose not to exercise it, they would have to pay Crawford a $1.25 million buyout. The marginal cost to the Rays of retaining Crawford, then, is $8.75 million, or just $500,000 more than he’s making his season. That would seem to argue for another year of Crawford in Florida unless the combination of the weak economy and Tampa’s attendance issues — the reigning AL champs’ sales are up, but only by about 2,300 tickets a game — has put the team in a position where it has to cut salary to the bone.

That outcome seems unlikely for two reasons: First, the Rays have a few dollars in useless salaries coming off the books after this season. Troy Percival, Jason Isringhausen and Chad Bradford will combine to make $8 million this year. If the Rays replace them internally, something they’ve already been forced to do with two of the three, then Crawford’s salary is mostly covered. Secondarily, $10 million is high for a left fielder in the present economic environment, but not outlandishly so. It’s less than Raul Ibanez will make next year, or Adam Dunn, and just $1 million more than Milton Bradley. The Rays could absorb the $8.75 million next year, then attempt to re-sign Crawford to a lesser contract based on the new economic realities, or they could pass and take the first-round draft pick. Alternatively, they could pick up Crawford’s option than attempt to trade him a year from now. In short, there is no guarantee that Crawford will even be available to the Yankees.

A more difficult question, but not spectacularly more difficult, is whether the Yankees would really benefit from signing Crawford. Crawford is a very good player who has the potential to be a very bad one. His game is largely based around speed, with only a bit of power and patience thrown in. His batting average is driven by hitting on turf — he’s averaged .302 on the fake stuff versus .285 on grass. Since he doesn’t walk much, his on-base percentage on grass is only .324. His average is also driven by his speed. Nearly 10 percent of Crawford’s hits every year are of the infield variety. At some point, through age or the inevitable knee injury, he’s going to lose half a step, and when he does, close to 20 hits a year will disappear, as will the high stolen base totals, the triples and the stellar outfield defense. That will leave Crawford’s team with a player not too different from the one he was during his injury season last year. Crawford hit .273/.319/.400. That’s not helpful in an offensive era in which the average player can be counted on to do better than that.

You can’t know when Crawford will hit that wall, the one that waits for all players whose productivity is based on speed, but given that the team that signs him as a free agent will have to agree to a multi-year deal that carries the player at least into his early 30s (Crawford turns 28 in August), it’s likely that it will happen on his next employer’s dime. Signing any player, at any stage of his career, is always a gamble, but some gambles are lower percentage risks than others. As much fun as Crawford can be, he seems like one of those, a chance for an acquiring team to get burned. Just Crawford’s career road rates, the non-turf .285/.323/.423 alluded to above, suggests he could retain his speed and still disappoint in the wrong park. In other words, he’s probably more valuable where he is now than he would be almost anywhere else. Before clamoring for Crawford, it would be best to be sure of what one is getting. As the old saying goes, speed kills. In this case, the victims might include those paying a thirty-something Crawford’s salary. 

9 Comments

You can’t have him! Just had to get that out. C.C. is way better on turf. According to many Rays fan, he IS the Rays. I’m honestly now sure that he would be a good fit for the Bronx Bombers. There are lots of great outfielders already on the team. Money is always a factor, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them find that money within the Rays payroll. It’s hard to give up a fan favorite who helps ticket sales…even a few thousand more tickets a year. It all counts. Congrats to C.C. on the MVP!
Canuck
http://watercooler.mlblogs.com

screw the Yankees. You guys see an elite player do something great then instantly get envious and start making plans on how your evil empire can steal him away from the team that actually deserves him. Crawford is too good to be a Yankee, leave him alone.

http://eatsleepmlb.mlblogs.com

Mr. Goldman,

Speaking of potential Yankees, what are your thoughts on the Halladay sweepstakes?

Jonnnnnn don’t come on to a Yankees blog just to spew your hatred . Well from your blog I gather you are just a disgruntled Pirates fan who has to deal with ineptitude year after year so I just feel sorry for you. As for Crawford, Steve was just dealing in hypotheticals for reasons why he would or wouldn’t be a fit in the future. What the Yankees do is no different than any other team who actually tries to win would do like the Red Sox, Cubs, Angels, Dodgers and that’s get the best players they can. I don’t even see a need for Crawford on the Yankees when we already have a couple guys in Brett Gardener and an upcoming Austin Jackson who can do what he does and they are younger and cheaper. So don’t generalize Yankee fans as just wanting to steal every great player from other teams. There are many of us who believe in building the team the right way through the farm system but you also have to mix in the right free agents and trades to win. As for CC being too good to be a Yankee, I recall seeing a pic of a Reds fan holding a sign up saying the same thing about Aaron Boone when he was traded to New York. All he did was hit the pennant winning homerun in game 7 so I’m pretty sure going to the Yankees was the best thing that ever happened in his career and CC would probably say the same if he ever does end up there too.

I think Carl did deserve the MVP Award, but another player that could have got it would be Curtis Granderson. He allowed it very easy for the AL to score their winning run.
http://tribechick.mlblogs.com/

Um, you don’t want him. Uh, he stinks. He could never help the Yankees. You’re better off without him. Might as well leave him in ol’ Tampa Bay.

(I’m hoping this tack will throw the Yankees off the scent of one of the best left fielders in the game right now. I think it’ll work….)
http://raysfanboy.mlblogs.com/

It’d be nice to get him. But you point some interesting red flags. Still, I bet they would be offset by increased power numbers from playing in the Bronx.

Obviously some of this are legit points but.

1. of course they can’t be “sure” they’ll get him, just like they weren’t sure they’ll land Teixiera or Sabathia, but it’s obvious that you want to at least explore the possibility of any good player when your the Yankees.

2. Whle he has pretty consistenly hit better on turf. the difference isn’t really large enough (like say.. the Coors slugger’s home /road splits) to draw an abosalute conclusion.

3. his power stroke and approach at the plate has a lot in common with Johnny Damon. as in he seems like the type who will get a lot of cheap home runs in the Stadium

4. While you focus on that he might lose a lot of value if he lose some speed, at the same context I can say that he’s a much better all around athelete than just about any other corner outfielder in baseball. and we all know that one dimensional sluggers are hardly the type that ages well either. If i have to take my pick on who’s going to age better. I’ll take the guy who looks like an olympic sprinter thanks.

5. his sim score and pecota comps : while not the most fool proof way ever to measure a guy. Carl Crawford’s sim score comp and Pecota comp is basically a who’s who list of speedy hall of famers. it’s easy to forget that he’s done all this and he’s 27 years old. the guy is on a 3000 hit pace . not to meantion an obscen amount of steals.

That’s going to be another Trade Rumor before to long.
http://tribechick.mlblogs.com/

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