Boston Signs Carl Crawford

Despite acquiring Adrian Gonzalez on Sunday, the Boston Red Sox have taken a back seat to the Yankees down here in Orlando. With Derek Jeter re-signing and holding an angry press conference, as well as their open pursuit of Cliff Lee, the meetings have centered around New York’s activity. Not anymore- with Carl Crawford in the fold, the Red Sox have stolen the show.

In general, reaction to the deal among people I talked to in Orlando was mostly negative, as $142 million for Carl Crawford is a big number. As a guy who gets a lot of value from his speed and defense, he isn’t the type of player to land a contract of this size. As Ken Rosenthal mentioned on Twitter, this is $50 million more than the next highest contract in baseball history for a guy who had never hit 20 or more home runs in a season- Ichiro’s previous record of $90 million for five years just got blown out of the water.

Just because it is unique, however, doesn’t mean it is automatically bad. Defense has historically been undervalued in the market, and while not everyone agrees with the conclusions reached by defensive metrics all the time, I have never met anyone who thinks that Carl Crawford is anything besides a great defensive left fielder. His speed and defense package are among the best in the game, and he’s a pretty good hitter too.

Over the last two years, the only position players with a higher WAR than Crawford are Albert Pujols, Evan Longoria, Ryan Zimmerman, Joe Mauer, and Chase Utley. Crawford is ahead of sluggers like Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, and Miguel Cabrera, but as we saw with Gonzalez’s extension, that kind of money for their skillset is considered acceptable. Just because Crawford creates wins in a different way doesn’t make those wins less valuable. If you buy into Crawford being an elite defender, then he is worth this contract, and maybe even a little bit more.

But there is an argument to be made that left field in Boston is perhaps the worst place in baseball for a guy with great range to make an impact defensively. The Green Monster turns a lot of potential outs in other parks into base hits in Fenway, which may diminish Crawford’s ability to perform at the same level as he did in Tampa Bay. The Red Sox might have to consider shifting Crawford to right field, where his speed could be better utilized to maximize his value.

Even as a left fielder, though, I think he can earn this money. If we assume Crawford is a +5 win player, $5 million per win is the going rate this winter, and a standard aging curve that knocks off half a win per season, inflation “only” needs to be six percent annually per year going forward for Crawford’s projected value to come out to $142 million. Given that Crawford is only 29, he might be able to sustain a +5 win peak for another year or two, which would push his value even higher.

Are the Red Sox taking a big risk that Crawford won’t suffer some kind of leg injury that destroys all of his value at once? Sure, they are, but that risk is there with nearly any kind of player you sign to a deal this large. This skillset ages pretty well, and, barring injury, Crawford should be one of the premier players in the game for the next three or four years. Add in that the wins Crawford add could be the difference between making the playoffs and sitting at home in a tough division, and there are actually a lot of reasons to like this deal for Boston.

They got a lot better today. Yes, it’s a lot of money for a guy who doesn’t do the things that traditionally earn a lot of money, but he’s worth it, especially to Boston.





Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

263 Comments
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Crawl Cawford
11 years ago

Since when does a skillset almost entirely based on speed age well into a player’s late 30s?

This contract wasn’t worth it at all. You aren’t factoring in the massive risk inherent in a seven-year deal, especially a massive deal to a guy who relies on his legs and not his bat.

If things go right Crawford could end up being worth $142 million in WAR, sure, but that doesn’t mean he was ever worth a $142 million contract (and the associated risk)

gnick55
11 years ago
Reply to  Crawl Cawford

Crawford is 29 now, this deal will by no means last well into his late 30s.

Lee
11 years ago
Reply to  gnick55

Did the sox overpay? Probably not if Crawford makes it the length of his contract injury free and doesn’t have any major setbacks.

Does the baseline risk of any player getting hurt over a 7 year time make this deal an overpay by the RedSox? Sure it does…….but they can afford it and they knew exactly what they were doing when they did it. They made this deal because they can, and because they didn’t make the playoffs last year.

pinep
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Good signing. Once Crawford loses his speed and elite defense he’ll just start to walk and homer more to make up for it like Henderson and Raines. Happens all the time with these athletic types of players.

Crawl Cawford
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Sorry, but there’s a difference between raw athleticism and raw speed. Speed is on the decline by a player’s 30s. With the exception of Ichiro (but he’s a freak of nature: Crawford is no Ichiro), none of the guys you mentioned relied on an abnormally high BABIP like Crawford does.

Without a .340+ BABIP, Crawford’s AVG and SLG are both going to plummet.

Fangraphs is a great site, but sometimes you stretch your analysis just to be slightly contrarian (and admittedly, the mainstream media’s obsession with power and neglect of defense is ridiculous). That doesn’t make this a smart signing though.

joe
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Henderson might not be the best example… A’s, early 90’s, posting an average of 7 war in his 30-32 seasons (or 31-33?). Hate to paint everyone with that brush, but that time period, that team, that performance in his early 90’s might not be purely about his athleticism (though athleticism is certainly part of it no matter what)

Alomar fell off a cliff in his early 30’s (age 33?)… also on the Indians in the late 90’s (I know, it’s not fair)

I do agree with your overall premise though.

joe
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

ummm… early 30’s…. if he was putting those #’s up in his early 90’s I would without a doubt say it was chemically enhanced! Doh!

Alan
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

You act like Crawford will be one of the slowest players in the game by the time his contract is up. No, he will still be one of the fastest. He won’t be as fast as he is today, but he’s not going to have some massive BABIP freefall because of losing a little speed. And maybe he will be another Ichiro. There aren’t many players in baseball history like Carl Crawford.

chuckb
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

@ Crawl —

How is Ichiro a distinctly better athlete than Crawford. In addition to being a high draft choice, Crawford had scholarship offers to play football at Nebraska and basketball at UCLA. He’s an athletic freak if ever there was one in baseball.

It seems like you’re the one who’s trying to fit his preconceived notion into the framework you want it to fit.

Mike G.
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Using those three examples, Henderson seems like the exception rather than the rule. Alomar put up his best seasons in 1999 (Age 31) and 2001 (33) but then completely fell off the map in 2002 and was out of baseball two years later. And most of Raines’ gaudy stats were put up in his Age 23-27 seasons; his only 5+ WAR after that came in his Age 32 season and was mostly due to his glove. Raines couldn’t stay on the field, either; he didn’t crack 600 PAs once after that Age 32 season. This doesn’t mean that Crawford will break down, but Alomar and Raines don’t support your point.

JayT
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Of the guys you mention here (Henderson, Alomar, Raines, and Ichiro), Ichiro is the only one that, to me, would offer any hope that Crawford will be worth this contract.

Henderson didn’t rely on his legs as much as Crawford does. Henderson could have been as slow as Bengie Molina and he still would have been an All Star.

Alomar was done as a productive player when he was 34.

Raines couldn’t stay healthy–he never broke 140 games played after the age of 32.

Like I say, Ichiro has managed to stay good into his 30’s. So did Kenny Lofton. But they were both better hitters then Crawford has ever shown to be, so I’m not so sure they are great examples.

Synovia
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Ichiro

27: .387/.457/.838
28: ..388/.425/.813

Lofton:
27:.412/.536/.948
28: .362/.453/.815
29: .372/.446/.817

Crawford
27: .364/.452/.816
28: .356/.495/.851

How exactly are these guys better hitters than Crawford? They look almost exactly the same to me. Crawford might actually be the best of the 3.

Yeah, Lofton’s 27 year was ridiculous, but he never came within .100 of it again.

Rickey Henderson
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Guys like myself, Alomar, Raines etc also GOT ON BASE. We walked and weren’t reliant on our batting average to get us an OBP above .320. Even in my 40s I had OBP’s higher then Crawford has ever had and I was flirting with the Mendoza line. What happens when Crawford starts to have more seasons like 2008? Looks awfully mediocre to me. I don’t care how good he is at this time defensively, 7 years is a long time to expect him to continue to play near that level.

BigSteve
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I get your point, but I don’t think the Red Sox are hoping for a Roberto Alomar in this deal. That would mean about four good years out of the seven and then nothing. Alomar would definitely be an example of a guy falling off the ledge at a relatively young age.

Double06
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I’m having trouble finding an article about player types and aging curves using the googles. I’m fairly certain I’ve come across them before. Can somebody give me a hand?

NEPP
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

I agree with Dave’s main point but I have trouble comparing ANYONE to Rickey. Rickey was the greatest leadoff hitter in the history of the game and probably one of the top 10 best players of all time. Its hard to say “Well, Rickey was great into his late 30s…so Player X might be too” Raines turned into a 4th OF/DH type hitter to survive…Alomar got hit by a bus around Age 35.

Crawford will certainly age better than Werth I would think.

CircleChange11
11 years ago
Reply to  Dave Cameron

Griffey Junior might be a decent body type comp to Crawford. One bad hamstring injury seemingly led to another leg injury to another injury to another injury …..

Slighter builds like say McGee and Ichiro tend to age very well.

Sizemore might be another good body comp in the regard of very athletic and muscular but one big injury brought him crashing down.

Rickey and Raines are mentioned quite a bit, but a lot of their value was in getting walks, like sometimes double and even triple Crawford’s rate.

When you sign a guy whose major values are in his athletic abilities (Ertic Davis, etc), you run the risk (maybe more so than any other player type) of one injury drastically reducing his value. But, that’s how it goes. Seeing how Crawford was likely to get a good contract from someone, your only other real options are MAJOR money for shorter years, or not sign them at all.

heychuck
11 years ago
Reply to  Crawl Cawford

Ricky Henderson

heychuck
11 years ago
Reply to  heychuck

bad timing…

Joel
11 years ago
Reply to  heychuck

The difference between Carl Crawford and Rickey Henderson is such a vast expanse that any comparison between the two, no matter how cursory, is lunacy by default.

Aaron
11 years ago
Reply to  heychuck

Calling something “lunacy by default” is lunacy by default.

heychuck
11 years ago
Reply to  heychuck

Joel, that had nothing to do with anything… The poster asked if there were any baseball players who were good into their late 30’s who depended on their bat and legs. Try reading first.

beasleyrockah
11 years ago
Reply to  Crawl Cawford

Since when is 35 considered late 30s? Crawford will be 35 in his last year of this contract.

While you claim Dave isn’t factoring in the “massive risk”, you clearly aren’t factoring in the situation. This deal wasn’t signed by the Washington Nationals, it was the Boston Red Sox. They just finished paying Julio Lugo and Mike Lowell 21.5 million dollars last season. While you point to the risk, you neglect to mention the added benefit of each additional win for a team in contention like the Red Sox. It isn’t far fetched to believe a player like Crawford could “put them over the top”.

Albert Lyu
11 years ago
Reply to  beasleyrockah

Don’t forget Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez, who were paid a combined $16.7M last year as well.

The Hit Dog
11 years ago
Reply to  beasleyrockah

Yes; his point was that they can afford to have players on the payroll who contribute nothing to the team on the field, whereas Beltre/Martinez obviously contributed immensely on the field.

Cheese Whiz
11 years ago
Reply to  Crawl Cawford

Ichiro has aged just fine….as have many others with this skill set. Do a little research.

CircleChange11
11 years ago
Reply to  Crawl Cawford

Tom Tango dances with the issue. I highly recommend reading the info from the link.

http://www.insidethebook.com/ee/index.php/site/comments/does_speed_age_better/