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December 9, 2010

Winter Meetings

Signing Crawford

by Christina Kahrl

It looks like not winning anything last year to complete their second four-season set--LDS loss, LCS loss, World Series win, and October golf, in no particular order--wasn't considered an acceptable result in Beantown. By signing Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal, Boston doesn't simply deny him to the Yankees, they wind up adding a fine ballplayer.

Is that all, though? Fine, not great? I don't think this is sticker shock talking. Crawford's 2010 True Average was a career-high .309,  good enough to finish in a three-way tie for 11th. That was the outcome of his having a career-best year in the power department, with an ISO of .188, where his previous high was .177. That's not a case of his achieving a new level of ability, but it was the predictable outcome of a natural crest for a player in that sweet spot between the ages of 25 and 29. As athletic as he is, and as well as you can reasonably expect him to age, he going to get better still? I doubt he's going to keep getter better in his age-29 season and then over the six more beyond it. His walk rates aren't especially high, down at seven percent last year, and while he amply makes up for that by putting hard-hit balls in play that reflect a great ability to make contact, leading to a consistently above-average BABIP that has nothing to do with luck, and everything to do with plate coverage. On defense, he'll be an asset in the road half of the schedule, and will presumably get the hang of the Monster well enough to be just as valuable at home.

The best possible outcome is that Crawford winds up as something like the Tony Gwynn of the American League (classic edition, not Li'l Gwynn). Only 'something,' though, because he's faster and more athletic than Gwynn ever was. He may never run into the problems with conditioning that hampered Gwynn in his 30s; as well-regarded as Gwynn deservedly was, is, and ever shall be, he was prone to miss 20-40 games annually once he headed into the back half of his career. But what if Crawford gets hurt? Say he blows out his knee, and the speed and defense components get knocked down a peg or three. What are you left with? A left fielder without big-time power is a luxury few clubs can afford, or should. We can of course play that game with any player on any team, but this kind of expense demands a certainty that Crawford lose nothing to Father Time or Mother Accident, a certainty nobody should really feel.

That said, could the Sox have spent their money any differently? Not spending it at all was an option, of course, especially with an outfield crowded with prospects they didn't have to give up to get Adrian Gonzalez. While the rotation was full, the pen might need somebody, but that isn't exactly a big-ticket expense of the same order. Spending to spend, to "keep up" with a Yankees team that, if it doesn't sign Cliff Lee, looks downright vincible in the future, isn't really a useful motivation. The addition of Gonzalez and the expectation of a healthier ballclub ought to have already inspired a certain measure of confidence about what the next couple of seasons would bring. Signing Crawford at this price provides little additional guarantee, while taking on considerable risk beyond 2012. If the Sox wind up with anything less than a World Series in the next two years, the expense goes from luxury to handicap.

---

Finally, an apology to everyone for the late filing, as I pack up and go to the airport. One of the best parts of being at the Winter Meetings is the simple fact that there is no better opportunity to run into everyone. Last night, ping-ponging between Justine Siegal and Kim Ng, Craig Calcaterra and David Laurila, Professor Parks and Jorge Arangure, Gordon Edes and Gary Gillette, Jonathan Mayo and Matthew Leach, or Derrick Goold and Gordon Wittenmyer, speaking at length with an academic working on defensive metrics about his findings (Colin, incoming!), and suddenly realizing that it's 5 AM and that even if I did not need a change of blood, I had forgotten that while there ain't no rest for the wicked, at some point they gotta sleep. Which is probably how I'm going to spend the next two days, but you cannot beat the experience.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

20 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Robotey

Clearly the Red Sox spending like they're the Yankees--$23 million for limited power LF is overpaying pure and simple. All this and Gonzalez too--that's a lot of Dunkin' Donuts $.

Dec 09, 2010 10:59 AM
rating: 1
 
erikh24

As a Yankees fan, I'd like for this signing to be "overpaying", but actually I think it's an excellent signing for the Sox. I expect Crawford to age well and hold his value thru the length of his contract far better than I expect Cliff Lee will hold thru his.

Dec 09, 2010 12:04 PM
rating: 3
 
Eddie

Does this count as the TA for Crawford? In absence of one for the Werth deal, I guess this is as good a place as any to compare/contrase the two.

As much as I didn't like the Werth deal, I think it was a better one than this one.

Crawford is a pretty good hitter with good speed and great defense, while Werth is a very good hitter with pretty good speed and very good defense. While Werth is 2 years older, his paychecks will be a bit less over the course of this deal, and I feel he will prove to be a better value over the course of the contract.

Dec 09, 2010 12:15 PM
rating: 1
 
irichmon

But that ignores the team context. The Red Sox are at the level of contending for a World Series, and a player of Crawford's value (even if he isn't as good as Werth) could be enough to put them over the top. In a division where two other teams are credible threats to win more than 90 games, every extra win is very valuable.

The Nats aren't likely to contend for at least a couple more years, and by the time they do, Werth will probably have declined a fair amount. Now, the Red Sox might have been better off spending their money on Werth than on Crawford, but any player like that will have more value for the Sox than the Nats.

Dec 09, 2010 13:22 PM
rating: 5
 
DetroitDale

The Sox are going to beat the Yankees by becoming the Yankees. I'm choking back the bile as I say this but it's looking increasingly like ESPN is right, this is a Yankees-Red Sox world, the rest of us just live in it.

You have the figure the price on every other available corner OFer out there just went up, as the Angels suddenly have a lot of money burning a hole in their pocket and a hole in the OF where they thought they were gonna put Crawford.

Love the reference to the Larry Miller "5 stages of drinking" routine. When references Monty Python and Spinal Tap become commonplace, leave it to Christina to turn the obsure reference dial up to 11 by digging up old HBO stant up comedy specials.

Dec 09, 2010 12:25 PM
rating: 0
 
FLeghorn

This deal does make me, once again, question the validity of all of the hype surrounding Red Sox prospects. Are any of them really any good? It seems rare that Boston ever has any plans to play any of them ( I know...Pedroia is homegrown, but was he considered a big prospect? It seems as though Tito had to ram him through the general filibuster of the Boston expectations in his rookie year, and then he grew into the job ), and yet we keep hearing about the majesty of their farm system.
At this point, why would teams believe any of the hype surrounding Sox prospects in trade talks, when it's clear that Boston is always looking to upgrade?
Anyway, these deals really look ridiculous in terms of value beyond the first couple of years. Do I think Crawford is a very good player? Of course. Do I think he will be in three years, in the middle of this albatross of a deal? I'm not so sure. But, I suppose they'll just spin him off and sign the next big fish in the ocean.
Even so, I'd take CC at this value over a 7-year deal for Cliff Lee, a pitcher who three years ago could have been landed in a trade for a couple of minor prospects, and is now, apparently, the most valuable pitcher in the sport?
Is everyone just ignoring that bad back? Is it all just about the chase, and we'll worry about the consequences later? I guess when you're a money pit like NY or Boston, it really doesn't matter.
This stuff really makes baseball unpalatable to me at times.

Dec 09, 2010 13:50 PM
rating: 2
 
Matt Kory

RE: Sox prospects. Pedroia won the rookie of the year, which doesn't mean he's some surefire HoFer but it wasn't like he sucked out of the gate. He had one bad month to start off and that was it. Beyond him, it doesn't take much to come up with a list of Lester, Buchholz, Youkilis, Papelbon, Bard, etc. Also, you may remember Hanley Ramirez who came up in the Sox system. I'm not sure you can claim the Sox prospects are serially bad.

Dec 09, 2010 14:52 PM
rating: 9
 
Hibernaut

The hype around Sox prospects does tend to get a bit overheated (same with Yanks prospects, I'd bet a combination of heavy media coverage and smart FOs ginning up interest), but their system has been pretty productive over the last few years, as the previous poster points out. Though it has been fascinating as a Sox fan how it's the not-as-trumpeted prospects who've turned out best. Pedroia, as you said, wasn't seen as a franchise player, and Lester was always mentioned behind Buchholz when the farm was discussed.

More importantly, the Sox looking to upgrade doesn't necessarily mean their farm system is all hype. Gonzalez and Crawford are superlative talents with track records. I don't think it's unrealistic to imagine Reymond Fuentes (one of the now-Pads from Saturday's deal) becoming Crawford 2.0 in a few years, and I'd bet that's what Jed Hoyer is hoping for. But the Red Sox have the resources to make a sure(ish) bet on the actual Crawford, and so they did. Big-market clubs like certainty.

All that said, can't argue with the lack of palatability.

(Additional note: Christina or any other BP staff- anything to be done about the +/- other than responsible use? Neither of the comments with minuses are remotely offensive or non-constructive, which strike me as the only reasons to vote down something.)

Dec 09, 2010 17:07 PM
rating: 1
 
BurrRutledge

+/- on the BP forums is a proxy for agree/disagree. I don't know if this is how it was intended to be used, but that's what it has become.

Dec 11, 2010 09:24 AM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

It wasn't intended for that purpose--it was intended for people to judge whether the comment contributes to the discussion. Probably to weed out the trolls. But it is definitely being used as a like/dislike tool, now.

Dec 11, 2010 13:46 PM
rating: 0
 
MichavdB

I think the main reason for the big deal (Gonzalez) and this big signing has been that tv ratings were down and ownership was afraid that their sell-out streak would come to an end. It took some major efforts to maintain that streak last year. They were simply afraid that people were losing interest, being good was just not good enough and doing it without big name players would mean decreased revenue. They spent the money to keep the fans excited, keep them watching tv, and keep them coming to the park.

Dec 09, 2010 18:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Kory

With all due respect, that is a ridiculous theory. You don't sign someone to a seven year contract to help TV ratings. The risk involved is too great. Time and again studies have shown that people come to the ball park and watch on TV to see winning teams. The best way to get people to buy tickets, by team merch and watch on TV is to put a winning team on the field. That is what the front office is trying to do. Plain and simple.

Dec 09, 2010 23:28 PM
rating: 1
 
Mike White

Li'l Gwynn

Well, I guess Tony, Jr. has his rap persona pre-determined when he's finally done killing rallies with his bat.

Dec 09, 2010 21:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Marc Normandin

The Red Sox are not flush with outfield prospects, or even outfielders. After 2011, Drew is a free agent, which would have left the team with Jacoby Ellsbury and, assuming he continues to develop at Triple-A this year, Ryan Kalish. The organization isn't exactly betting on Josh Reddick to learn how to take a pitch, as he is very much happy with his ability to swing at everything in the same zip code as his bat. He's a fine fielder, but he is not at the talent level Boston generally requires out of their homegrown products, and will most likely end up as part of another organization before he ever suits up long-term with Boston.

Crawford is a 5-6 win player with his defense, baserunning skills and bat. Why you *wouldn't* sign a player like that when he is available, he fits into your budget, and you will soon be lacking outfielders, is the part that confuses me.

Dec 10, 2010 08:03 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Compared to most, the Sox are fairly well off, and Reddick's second-half rally is cause for some inspiration. Compared to Ellsbury's problems with playing center, in discussing the trio of Ellsbury, Reddick, and Kalish, I wouldn't bet on Ellsbury to wind up being the best of the lot. A corner outfielder without power or patience? That's Dave Collins, and something well worth making into somebody else's problem, as Collins was.

As for Crawford, while it's a fair point to say he'll be paid what the market rate was, but that sort of circular logic doesn't really come to grips with the fact that he's been above the five-win threshold twice in his career, that in the last two years, smack dab in the middle of his predictable peak. In the last four or five years of that deal, you've got something less than that.

The one variable that will be fun to follow is whether Crawford's stroke is better equipped to exploit the Monster, in that it isn't hard to anticipate his pelting pills off its face or into the crannies in center. In contrast to, say, someone like Jack Clark, that could make for a higher than expected number of extra-base hits for Crawford, and while that might be "just" a park effect, it would be one that Crawford's bat might deliver on better than most. That doesn't cheapen the impact, and it might end up a credit to Theo. But from where I sit, I'd suggest we need to see it first to believe it.

Dec 10, 2010 13:58 PM
 
Drew Miller

This assumes that his defense is really worth all those extra wins. I haven't watched him day in and day out, but you can hardly cite the available defensive metrics, since it is clear that those metrics are questionable.

The best I can say about his defense is that I have to believe Theo et al put in a ton of homework on analyzing his D, so they may have a better idea of exactly how good he is, or will be, than we do.

But if he's not Mr. Megadefender, he's merely Tim Raines playing a corner outfield position--i.e. not worth the money.

Dec 11, 2010 13:11 PM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

Tom Boswell, in his column Friday for the Washington Post, notes that Crawford has hit relatively poorly in Fenway (.275/.301/.406 in 338 PAs). He then observes that, if that were to continue, CC in Fenway would amount to a speedy guy with little offense and little arm - comparable to scads of toolsy 4A corner OFs. But a pricey one.

Dec 11, 2010 15:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Given how good Red Sox pitching has been and that obviously all those were road games, not sure how poor .275/.301/.406 actually is. Particularly since they're including his 'wet behind the ears' years.

Dec 11, 2010 20:43 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

A very important point. As dubious as I might be that Crawford's going to stick at the level he's been at the last two years over the life of this contract--I know, belaboring the obvious--I think that triple-rate clip overstates the downside potential.

Dec 11, 2010 22:08 PM
 
BrewersTT

Very good point, Richie, thanks.

Dec 13, 2010 10:35 AM
rating: 0
 
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