Why Red Sox Delaying Carl Crawford's Tommy John Surgery Now Impacts 2013
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Everything has to be a battle for the Boston Red Sox this year.
The latest episode of Team Turmoil involves Carl Crawford and the decision to have season-ending reconstructive surgery on his left elbow.
ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes reported on Sunday (Aug. 19) that Crawford would undergo Tommy John surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow. Yet Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington disputed the report, insisting that the team and Crawford had not yet come to an agreement on whether or not to have the surgery.
Why exactly was Cherington so determined to hold his ground on this? Less than 24 hours later, the decision to have surgery was official, according to multiple reports (h/t The Boston Herald). Were the Red Sox really still holding out hope that the procedure wouldn't be necessary this late in the process, when surgery looked inevitable? Was the front office hoping to salvage a decision that had been bungled months ago?
Will Crawford Miss Time in 2013 Too?
The most damning bit of information throughout this entire drama is Crawford's assertion that renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews told him back in April that Tommy John surgery would eventually be necessary. But Cherington and manager Bobby Valentine insisted that treating the injury through rest and rehabilitation was an option.
However, if surgery may not have been necessary, why would Crawford say otherwise? As teammate David Ortiz said to Edes, "Nobody has Tommy John because it's fun.'' Is Crawford attempting to save some face and make his bosses look like the bad guys?
According to Edes, Crawford was afraid to say anything about his injury for fear of how he would be perceived by teammates, coaches and fans. After a poor 2011 during which he missed 24 games with a hand injury, Crawford was apparently eager to redeem himself in 2012.
So how did that end up working out?
Cherington and Valentine never had their projected Opening Day outfield together and may have desperately believed that getting Crawford (and Jacoby Ellsbury) back on the field could give them a push back into the AL playoff race.
By insisting that surgery wasn't the only option (and at this point, it's management's word against the player's), the Red Sox may have cost themselves having Crawford at the beginning of next season.
From all accounts (including this one by MLB.com's Ian Browne), Tommy John surgery for a position player requires less recovery time than it would for a pitcher. But a player will still miss six to nine months. That would take Crawford's recovery into April and possibly May.
But had the Red Sox not delayed the surgery and let Crawford go under the knife in July, for example, he could have been ready for spring training.
Was 31 games for a team out of the AL East and wild-card playoff races really worth Crawford possibly missing one to two months next season, instead of returning fully healthy?
Us Versus Them
The front office's insistence that Crawford could avoid surgery probably didn't win them any points with the players that are already disgruntled with management.
It's notable that Ortiz was particularly outspoken on this matter, given his dissatisfaction with the Red Sox front office over the contract offer he received for this season.
Obviously, he was speaking for Crawford and presumably for himself. But was Ortiz also speaking for the majority of his teammates, many of whom are reportedly so fed up that they asked for a meeting with principal owner John Henry, according to Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan?
Though that meeting reportedly concerned issues with Valentine, isn't it intriguing that the group of players went over Cherington's head and directly to ownership? That clubhouse knows that the general manager isn't really calling the shots.
Cherington's Credibility (Or Lack Thereof)
The Red Sox general manager looked rather foolish in light of the news that Crawford is undergoing surgery.
"It became clear over the last few days that surgery was going to happen, it was just a question of when," Cherington told reporters, including ESPN Boston's Joe McDonald. "We felt, after talking with Carl, it was the right thing to do to get it taken care of now."
So why dispute the initial reports that Crawford was having surgery as soon as Aug. 21? Does Cherington somehow look better now that Crawford will undergo the procedure two days later, on Aug. 23? Was that slight discrepancy really something worth fighting over? Was it worth the continuing erosion of his credibility with players, media and fans?
Cherington apparently needs to choose his battles more carefully. But perhaps he's already hypersensitive to the perception that he was overruled by ownership in hiring Valentine as manager, rather than Dale Sveum or Gene Lamont, during the offseason.
"It was not my intention to suggest or portray in any way there was a fundamental divide," Cherington said.
Yet that's exactly the impression he created. Why continue to battle reporters, Crawford and medical experts when it was all but certain Tommy John surgery was the only way Crawford's elbow would be fixed? Whether he was actually wrong or not, Cherington looks like he was misinformed and misguided, to put it kindly.
Now this situation, along with all of the other soap opera elements from this season—with players going rogue—bleeds into next year when it could have been properly settled months ago.
The 2013 season already looks like it's off to a shaky start for the Red Sox. At the very least, Cherington has several fires to extinguish.
Follow @iancass on Twitter.
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