Crawford’s Injury Tests Boston’s Outfield Depth Early

Short term injuries litter the landscape of spring training, so it doesn’t usually mean too much when a player is shut down for a few days, as the Red Sox did Monday with Carl Crawford. This time, the consequences appear more serious, as the outlook is less bright for the 30-year-old coming off January wrist surgery. From manager Bobby Valentine, via the Boston Globe:

The Opening Day thing is probably not realistic. It’s not the calendar. He’ll be ready when he’s ready. As we talked about before he got here and we’ve reiterated that Carl loves to do a lot of stuff and it’s probably not in his best interest at this time to overdo it. It’s more work than his wrist needs at this time.

It isn’t known exactly how long Crawford will be out, although the thinking is he may need to start the season on the disabled list in order to take either a minor league rehab assignment or take extra at-bats in extended spring training to ready himself for the season. With just four playoff spots available for five very solid teams in Boston, New York, Tampa Bay, Texas and Los Angeles of Anaheim, how the Red Sox and their newest attempts at outfield depth respond to this first test could be key come October.

The result is an early test for the outfield depth of the Red Sox, arguably the weakest area of last season’s roster. Beyond Jacoby Ellsbury and his MVP-caliber year, the Red Sox got very little out of their outfield. Josh Reddick was the only other Red Sox outfielder to post an above-average wRC+ on the season, with players like Crawford, J.D. Drew, Mike Cameron and Darnell McDonald all struggling, limping to a combined -0.8 WAR.

Ellsbury and McDonald are 2012’s only holdovers. Reddick is gone as part of the Andrew Bailey deal, with Ryan Sweeney coming over from Oakland to take his place. Cody Ross is in as the right-handed power bat. Ryan Kalish offers youth with potential after dealing with injuries in 2011.

The foursome behind Ellsbury may not offer All-Star level talent, but it is well balanced. McDonald and Sweeney offer solid corner gloves from the right and left side of the plate respectively, with Ross and Kalish offering more pop. As a result, the Red Sox have the ability to work the platoon matchups on each side of Ellsbury, with defensive replacements or pinch-hitters available for almost any conceivable situation.

As such, the Red Sox should be able to work around Crawford’s injury, particularly if it is as short-term as the Globe article suggests. However, considering the injury is to an area surgically repaired just two months ago, the concern of a lingering issue is a real one.

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14 Responses to “Crawford’s Injury Tests Boston’s Outfield Depth Early”

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  1. Grand Admiral Braun says:

    5 playoff spots, not 4.

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  2. Preston says:

    The Red Sox lineup was excellent last year even without Crawford, yet of the teams 38.5 cumulative WAR a massive 24 of that came from 3 players. While Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are huge talents in their prime, it’s hard to imagine them all posting career highs in WAR (in Ellsbury’s case not by a small margin) again in 2012. The 4th most productive player on the team was David Ortiz and considering his age (36) and performance from 2008-2010, it seems unreasonable to assume he’ll produce at that level again in 2012. Kevin Youkilis would be a prime candidate to help offset some of this regression, since he missed significant time to injury last year, but Youk has never played in more than 147 games and 33 is not an age at which players cease to be injury prone. The Sox current SS, RF and C configurations do not have a lot of promise to be significantly more than league average, so Carl Crawford returning to his career norms was a big part of this being an elite lineup again rivaling the Yankees and Rangers. If this injury saps his production than I think a repeat third place finish in the AL East is very likely.

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    • Ari Collins says:

      Sox should get more out of the corner infield spots even without Crawford, though, offsetting much of the regression from their top four players. Catcher should also benefit from some positive movement, both at the plate and in the field without Wakefield’s knuckler causing a ton of PBs. Even Gonzalez may end up the same or better next year, one more year removed from shoulder surgery.

      Most of the positve regression, however, should come on the rotation side of things. The back of the rotation was so terrible last year that a merely replacement-level #4/#5 would be a humongous upgrade. And the back of the rotation has a good chance to beat replacement level by a fair amount.

      Overall, without Crawford, they’re probably a second-place team by most projections. Third is of course possible in that stacked division, but I think “very likely” is overstating things, considering 90 wins is most likely their floor.

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      • Preston says:

        I’m not as sold on their pitching improving. Beckett and Lester will be probably as good if not better in 2012, but Buchholz is coming off of a pretty serious back injury and has only one successful full season in the majors. Alfredo Aceves seems like a merely adequate option and moving Daniel Bard, a guy who hasn’t made a start since 2007 in High A ball, doesn’t strike me as an exciting option either. Plus if those two are in the rotation then their bull-pen (a strength last season) will be substantially weaker. They seem to be banking on finding some kind of magic bullet off of the junk heap like the Yankees did last year with Colon and Garcia. But the chances of that happening are slim indeed.

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      • Ari Collins says:

        It’s not that Buchholz/Bard/Padilla (or Doubront possibly, but Aceves is staying in the ‘pen most likely) are great (though they have a ton of upside for 3/4 starters), but that half of Boston’s starts last year went to pitchers with a collective ERA of like 5.5 or something. If they’re merely good, that’s a huge upgrade over historically bad.

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  3. Mr Punch says:

    Preston is of course right, but I think he’s over-analyzed the situation. Here’s how I’d put it: A team without a top-notch pitching staff, top to bottom, can’t win without a significant contribution from its corner outfielders.

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  4. jim says:

    $128 million to go!

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  5. OrgoneDonor says:

    The Red Sox have problems, but I think they are the most underrated team in the AL going into the 2012 season. They still have a ridiculous amount of talent. But they are mortal and have uncertainties in their rotation and in a few spots on the field. A 5-win season from Carl Crawford would be huge for them, and may make the difference between the playoffs and a long offseason.

    Also, I think the Rays and Yankees are both very, very good teams that are relatively balanced. The Rangers too. The Tigers and Angels are like the Red Sox though: enormous talent in some places, but some huge flaws in others. Namely, the Tigers have only righthanded SP. The Angels lineup is almost entirely righty as well, and will have some very bad-to-mediocre players hitting in it daily.

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  6. pft says:

    Crawford was barely replacement level last year, so no hurry for him to return to the lineup before he is 100%.

    It was not just his hitting that fell short, but his fielding and running game. He seems afraid of the wall, and does not like to dive, preferring to slide (like his failed sliding catch attempt that ended the season). In 50 years, I have not seen a Red Sox LF’er as ineffective as Crawford throwing. Maybe it was the wrist.

    As for his running game, I recall the Rays announcers last year in ST being amazed at Crawfords weight gain over the off season. They thought it was due to him wanting to increase his power and wondered how it would affect his defense and running game. The Boston media ignored this factor.

    I suppose the extra weight lifting to increase his weight and strength may have played a role in worsening his wrist condition which had been a problem off and on in the past. Presumably, he would have had to cut back on lifting and may have lost some weight which may help him defensively and on the bases.

    As for how he will recover from the surgery. I read in one medical journal that recovery rates (pain free) could be a low as 73% depending on the location of the tear that is debrided because of issues with blood supply (peripheral tears which can be repaired have a better prognosis than central tears which can only be debrided due to the lack of blood supply) .

    In any event, such injuries can linger, and his recent set back is cause for concern. Red Sox docs don’t like to MRI bruises or what they think are minor issues, so we can not rule out Crawfords wrist inflammation being more than it seems. Their (Docs) track record has been awful the past couple of years (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Buchholz, Cameron, Jenks, Lowell, Crawford -he should have had surgery in October not January)

    As for the Red Sox prospects without Crawford being 100%? They were without him last year in every way but his name. RF can be no worse than JD Drew/Reddick/McDonald were. They do look weaker at closer/setup/SS but could get lucky there if Bailey is healthy and Aviles can hold the fort until Iglesias is ready. SP’ing should be no worse than last year if Buchholz is healthy and Beckett does not regress. Bard/Aceves/Padilla/whomever have to be better than Lackey/Daisuke/Wake/etc were last year.

    I think the key for the Red Sox is to avoid injuries to their top 5 position players (Ellsbury, Pedroia, A-gon, Papi and Youk) and top 3 SP’ers (Beckett, Lester, Buchholz) . Everyone else can be replaced, including Crawford.

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