We finally got the official bottom line. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez came in at a shade under $300 million.
It’s hard to evaluate the signings this early, except we know Crawford has not started well and Gonzalez hasn’t yet lived up to having the perfect swing for Fenway Park. Whether they are pressing or just not yet in the flow or whether they’re being weighed down by their massive contracts is anyone’s guess.
A month or two from now we’ll likely see Crawford’s tremendous skill level manifest itself in a variety of ways, but mostly with world-class speed that shows up on the base paths and on defense. We will likely see the beautiful inside-out stroke Gonzalez has always possessed, and we are sure to be reminded of Fred Lynn.
The Red Sox’ new acquisitions will likely be all right.
Whenever a team spends that much money, it is under tremendous scrutiny from media, fans, and other teams.
We wrote in this space a while back that Tampa Bay hoped Johnny Damon would be 60-70 percent of Crawford, but as one clever texter wrote, “Wonder if Crawford will be 60-70 percent of Damon.’’
While the Crawford signing was exciting, it also raised questions about whether the Sox needed that type of player. They were already lefthanded-oriented and there seemed to be more of a need for a righthanded power hitter than a lefthanded speedster. They seemed to have that already with Jacoby Ellsbury, and Crawford was a bit redundant.
“One of the worst decisions both by a team and by the player was Jason Bay leaving Boston,’’ said one National League general manager. “In New York, he’s like a fish out of water. Whatever the Red Sox wanted to put in that contract [clauses to protect the team in case Bay’s knees broke down], Jason should have gone along with it because he was so comfortable in that lineup and so perfect as a power-hitting righthanded bat. I think they miss that. As good as Crawford is, they miss Bay and Bay misses them.’’
It’s true that Bay’s career has spiraled downward since he signed with the Mets, where he’s miscast not only for the city but for the ballpark. Bay also has been injured a lot. The Sox replaced Bay with Mike Cameron, who suffered from an abdominal tear last season and didn’t live up to Bay’s numbers. And when coupled with Ellsbury’s injury-plagued season, it was a disaster.
There are baseball people who still believe that Jayson Werth was a much better fit for the Sox than Crawford, but Theo Epstein believed seven years at $126 million was too much for Werth. Maybe it was. But was eight years, $142 million too much for Crawford? That’s what the next few months and years will answer for us.
Werth signed with the Nationals after a nice run with the Phillies. At 31, he’s two years older than Crawford and his skill set is different.
Werth is a hard-nosed player who hits in the middle of the order. He had a .921 OPS last season and is at .845 for his career. Crawford has a .777 career OPS and his .851 a year ago was his highest ever.
Crawford has more wear and tear. Despite being younger, he’s played many more games — 1,247 to 788. As speed guys get older their legs tend to go, though with Crawford that seems years away because he’s in such tremendous shape.
Crawford is batting .137. He’s been shifted from third in the order to seventh to second, and now he’s in the leadoff spot. His skills seem better suited for batting first or second; he’s somewhat miscast as a middle-of-the-order hitter. There’s been no easy place to put him, and the constant shifting reflects that. Werth, like Bay, is more of a 5 through 7 hitter.
What did the Red Sox need most after obtaining a lefthanded bat like Gonzalez?
“There’s no question Werth was the better fit because it balances their lineup better,’’ said an American League GM. “It seemed like the Red Sox wanted to make sure [Crawford] was kept away from the Yankees and they did that by offering that type of contract. He’ll be a heck of a player for them, there’s no doubt about that. His speed and Ellsbury’s speed should play well together over the course of the season. I think Werth would have given them some more grit. More of a righthanded threat. With Ellsbury, [David] Ortiz, Gonzalez and [J.D.] Drew they had a big lefthanded presence already. Not sure that many of us are unhappy they chose Crawford over Werth. But Werth just seemed to fit that lineup better.’’
And the feeling is Crawford can be pitched to. There are also many ways to get Werth out, or so the Phillies think. When the Nationals faced the Phillies last week, Philadelphia GM Ruben Amaro Jr. was reminded of a comment he made after Werth signed with Washington.
“We’ll get him out a lot,’’ Amaro said.
When asked if he knew the secret to getting Werth out, Amaro said, “I believe that we do.’’
As we watch these two players over time, we will ask who’s better? The consensus is Crawford is better, but not necessarily the better fit. It will be fascinating to watch the truth unfold.