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.