Carl Crawford’s epic all-star catch last evening has my friend Rob rightfully ringing his cowbell. But I thought two things as I watched the slow motion replay:
- Wow, that really saved Pap’s butt. Pap, despite strong numbers, has made Sox fans nervous on more than one occasion this season…
I thought the Rays made a solid decision holding onto Crawford this offseason and building the team for a championship run. But, with the kind of season he’s having (he’s on pace to top his career highs in hits, walks, runs and steals), I can’t see Crawford staying in Tampa without a big money contract extension after this season.
I know, I know, the club has an option to pay Crawford $10mil. But that option comes with a 1.5 million dollar buy-out. Crawford could have bought out of the contract after last season (for $2.5mil), but he chose to accept the $8.25mil instead. I don’t see lightning striking twice.
First, the free agent crop for outfielders is particularly weak next season. There’s a list of great names, but nobody there is in their prime, outside of Jason Bay. The Red Sox will want to keep Bay, and I expect them to make a hard push to keep their righthanded power hitter, though the fact that Youk and Dustin are righties, coupled with the decline of Ortiz means they could look at a lefty. Particularly a fast lefty? Couple to the Rays challenge to retain Crawford the fact that the Yankees will be losing Damon; they, too, could be interested in upgrading a terrible outfield defense and getting younger.
Hey, wait, a fast, left-handed, slick fielder with a buy-out option who just won the All-Star game MVP could become a free agent in an off-season in which the Sox and the Yanks will be bidding for a starting left-fielder? CHA-CHING!
I also think you’ll see speed coming back to a premium ahead, as the Earl Weaver “get a big guy to hit the ball really hard” (note: PG rendition) strategy will whither with homerun totals. All the unquantifiable dimensions of speed on the basepaths (i.e., the slidestep, the hesitation of middle infielders, the distraction on pitchers, the gift ball of a pitchout) will come more into play.
To be clear, I think Tampa handled this right. They are getting a great season out of Crawford- if they can pick up some bullpen help, and if their starting pitching holds together, and if their middle infield defense plays better, they have a great shot at a title again this season. They will likely loose Crawford this offseason, but unlike other sports, they won’t get nothing in return. Crawford’s departure will bring them draft picks as compensation–and its likely the picks are near equivalent to anything they might have brought in through an offseason trade (I mean, this is the team that gave up Jackson for Joyce…cheap shot, sorry, sorry).