MLB Free Agents: Is Carl Crawford a Good Fit for the Boston Red Sox?

Adam MacDonaldAnalyst IIDecember 7, 2010

MLB Free Agents: Is Carl Crawford a Good Fit for the Boston Red Sox?

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    With the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego solving the problems at first and third, there are only two positions left for the front office to address: catcher and left field.

    GM Theo Epstein might be happy with Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate with returning captain Jason Varitek serving as the backup, but he will not be happy with the outfield situation. JD Drew and Mike Cameron are in the last years of their contracts and Jacoby Ellsbury is floating about between left and center.

    Ideally, the Red Sox need someone to play left and free agent Carl Crawford is not only the best fit, but will likely the best outfielder to hit the market for the foreseeable future. Still, there are doubts about him.

    So, here are the reasons he would work as a Red Sox and the reasons he would not.

Why He Does Not

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He Will Be Expensive

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    Jayson Werth signed a seven-year/$126 million contract with the Washington Nationals last week.

    Simply put, Werth is not worth that. Not even close. But the worst bit about the deal was the fact that it drives Crawford’s price tag up. The Yankees will see to that, too.

    The former Tampa Bay star is a better player than Werth, there can be no question. His agent can now say “My client is better than that guy. Pay him as such.”

    It is all coming together for Crawford, who is now set to make an absolute killing. He will be overpaid, but can the Red Sox afford to be the ones who overpay him?

The Red Sox Need a Righty

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    In the press conference introducing new first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Theo mentioned that the Red Sox needed two more things: bullpen help and a right-handed bat.

    Carl Crawford is, obviously, neither. With JD Drew, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez all in the top half of the lineup, do Boston really need another lefty?

    In fact, a better question might be: can they actually cope with another lefty?

    On a similar note…

He Is Not As Good Against Lefties

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    Last year, Crawford was great against right-handed pitching, batting to a .332/.379/.552 line. Against lefties, he was not nearly as good, finishing .256/.312/.384, with a quarter of the home runs (4 compared to 15).

    This is made all the more noticeable with Victor Martinez having left for Detroit a few weeks ago. Martinez hit .400 against lefthanders last year, and in the AL East, Boston could really do with that level of production again in 2011.

    In the heart of the Sox lineup, they will have Drew, Papi and Crawford. You cannot have that many players who cannot hit lefties. Gonzalez balances it out somewhat, but it is a worry.

He Does Not Fit in The Lineup

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    Where does one play him? If Ellsbury leads off, Pedroia will bat second and Crawford will not hit in the heart of the order with Gonzalez and Youk. That leaves him in the tail of the order, and he would be wasted.

    You cannot have Ellsbury and Crawford 1-2 because they are too similar, so Ellsbury would have to slide down the order. He played there for a while in 2009 and flourished but I doubt he would be too happy being protected by Marco Scutaro and Saltalamacchia.

    There is a perfect place in the lineup for a right-handed outfielder, but since none are available, Tito is going to have to compromise. The lineup can work, but it is not as perfectly put-together as it could be.

He Might Wear Down

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    There are big concerns about how his body will hold up towards the backend of his contract. His entire value is built on speed—both offensively and defensively. It will probably take a seven or eight-year contract to land him and it is a real possibility that he will have worn down by the end of it.

    All those years of attempting 60-plus stolen bases on turf will eventually take their toll. If they do, his offense will decline and even now, he is not suited to a DH role.

    Of course, he has been very durable for Tampa Bay, playing over 140 games in all but one of his seasons there and there is a long list of players who have kept healthy for years. The worry for Boston is that there is a far longer list of players who have fallen apart.

Why He Does

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He Is Fast

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    The Red Sox ranked just 25th in baseball last year in stolen bases. Obviously, the absence of Jacoby Ellsbury was part of that. He stole a franchise-record 70 bases in 2009 and when he returned from injury in August 2010, he tied the team’s single-game record with five.

    Boston have some fast players, but really Ells is their only significant stolen base threat. Crawford has led the AL in steals four times and has swiped at least 45 bags in seven of his eight years in the Majors. He would add a dimension to the Sox offense that was severely lacking last year.

He Is Good Defensively

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    Carl Crawford is a very good defensive left fielder, something that would be a novelty for Red Sox fans after years of Manny Ramirez.

    His UZR has been in double figures every year except 2007 and has never committed more than four errors in a single season. Those numbers would easily make him the best defensive outfielder on the Red Sox.

Ellsbury Could Move Back to CF

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    When the Red Sox signed veteran outfielder Mike Cameron last offseason, they did so as part of the "pitching and defense" mantra that was thrust upon the team during its so-called "bridge year."

    Having won three Gold Glove Awards, Cameron was signed to improve the outfield defense, after Ells had a torrid time with the glove the year before. The speedster was moved to left to make room, but we never got to see how well he would play there, as he was injured in early April after colliding with Adrian Beltre.

    But here’s the important part: Terry Francona said he planned to move Ellsbury back to CF eventually. If Boston signs Carl Crawford, he would play LF and Jacoby’s return to the middle could be brought forward to 2011.

He Is Better at Fenway Than People Think

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    There seems to be a perception that Crawford is a bad hitter at Fenway Park. To an extent, it is true, but it is nowhere near as bad as some people make out.

    Yes, he strikes out a lot. In the last three seasons, he has struck out more times at Fenway than any other ballpark (with the exception of the Trop, of course). However, his batting average in Boston was .324 last season, behind only Camden Yards, Yankee Stadium and Safeco for his best in an AL park.

    Considering that the front office signed John Lackey in spite of his struggles in Boston, they would surely have no problem with Crawford’s numbers at the old ballpark.

He Will Fit Better Next Year

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    JD Drew’s contract expires after the 2011 season and even if he does not retire, he will not be playing in a Boston uniform in 2012. The Red Sox hope that Ryan Kalish will be ready to move up to the big leagues by that point and can replace Drew in right.

    With Ellsbury in CF and Crawford in LF, you would have a very solid outfield set up for a while. Also, Crawford’s struggles against lefties would be less noticeable and his left-handed bat would fit better in a more balanced lineup.