So much for an image problem.
In signing outfielder Carl Crawford to a mind-boggling seven-year, $142 million deal, the Red Sox have certainly laid any rest to percolating theories that they were “cheap” or had their fingers a bit too deep in their shiny, new toy overseas. Theo Epstein has had some week. First, Adrian Gonzalez, now Crawford.
And yet, some Red Sox fans don’t like the deal. The cartel of Red Sox beat writers will tell them they’re crazy and go back to tweeting Liverpool scores, but it truly is a dubious signing, especially for Epstein. Crawford’s contract is the second-highest for an outfielder in Major League Baseball history, and he’s yet to hit 20 home runs in any season. He comes with a career on-base percentage of .337 and an OPS of .781. Crawford’s 2010 OBP of .356 was only 44th-best Major League Baseball, and that was the second-best mark of his career. According to Baseball Reference’s similarity score, he is most comparable to Roberto Kelly.
The Red Sox just dropped $142 million on Roberto Kelly.
But he is 29, and B-R has him closest to another Roberto at that age. Clemente.
The Red Sox just dropped $142 million on Roberto Clemente?
That’s the hope. However, over 76 career games at Fenway Park, Crawford’s numbers are pedestrian, to be kind: .275 average, .301 OBP, .708 OPS. Of course, some of that has to do with the level of Sox pitching, but in his career Crawford has actually stolen more bases against Boston (62) than he has driven in runs (61). He’s got flash, no doubt, but he hardly seems suited to long-standing Red Sox offensive philosophy.
But it’s not our money, so why should we care? After all, having Julio Lugo on the books in 2010 didn’t prevent the Red Sox from going over the luxury tax at the trading deadline, right?
Despite criticism from a minority, however, the Sox have seemingly pleased the masses with a free agent move. Finally.
It’s no news that Epstein’s free agent docket hasn’t exactly been stellar. Edgar Renteria, Matt Clement, J.D. Drew, Lugo, and John Lackey come to mind as names that had Sox fans scratching their heads, and eventually banging them against the wall. By inking Crawford though, Epstein has caused a stir. Larry Lucchino can crow about how they kept him away from the Yankees, but boy, what a price at doing so.
He does improve a Red Sox outfield beset by injuries last season. According to ESPNBoston.com, “Red Sox outfielders ranked 28th in the majors with a .245 BA and .317 OBP, while striking out 445 times, the fourth-highest total in the majors. Crawford’s glove would fill another of Boston’s needs. Red Sox outfielders ranked last in the defensive metric runs saved (-41), a measure that combines the ability to turn batted balls into outs, deter baserunners, and rob home runs. Crawford has ranked as the best defensive left fielder by this measure in each of the last three seasons.”
The argument there is that left field defense isn’t a big deal at Fenway, which is true. But last I checked the Red Sox still played half their games on the road, so it’s certainly a big plus. And in his career, contract year, Crawford did rank fourth in runs scored last season (110), eighth in total bases (297), and third in WAR (6.9). There’s a lot to like about Crawford’s potential. And Ken Rosenthal has to be thrilled.
But at the tune of $142 million?
Nobody ever said the Red Sox aren’t willing to spend money, but this contract once again brings up the question as to whether or not they are spending it wisely. Any idiot with a checkbook can whip out cash for a Pinto, but this is a Manny Ramirez, circa 2000, Bentley contract for a guy who will have only a fraction of that impact. The run prevention will be great. The run production could be a concern.
With Drew and David Ortiz (as long as ownership doesn’t want to prolong the fairy tale) coming off the books in 2012, Crawford’s contract may not look as absurd as it does now. Until the Red Sox feel the need to make another “splash” next offseason, that is. What’s Mark Buehrle going to cost them to keep away from the Bronx? And everybody had better hope that whatever pencil they used to sign Gonzalez’ “understanding” doesn’t fade too quickly.
But there’s buzz, and for a team that had seen its TV and approval ratings plummet, that’s something of particular importance, especially with curious eyes in England watching every move.
Speed, like sex, sells.
Tickets on sale Saturday.