Carl Crawford Headed to Beantown: 8 Key Questions the Red Sox Signing Poses

deleteth accounethCorrespondent IIIDecember 10, 2010

Carl Crawford Headed to Beantown: 8 Key Questions the Red Sox Signing Poses

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    Carl Crawford has signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox. He joins Adrian Gonzalez as the second huge catch the Red Sox have landed this offseason.

    The Red Sox are clearly going for it all this year.

    Whenever the hot stove heats up with a flurry of blockbuster deals occurring within such a short period of time, it's only natural that a number of subsequent questions arise.

How Will the Offense Be Impacted?

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    It's unlikely that Crawford would remove Dustin Pedroia from the two-hole. The Red Sox 2011 lineup could look something like this:

    LF Carl Crawford

    2B Dustin Pedroia

    1B Adrian Gonzalez

    3B Kevin Youkilis

    DH David Ortiz

    RF J.D. Drew

    C Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek

    SS Marco Scutaro/Jed Lowrie

    CF Jacoby Ellsbury

    The seven and eight holes could flip. It depends on how Terry Francona sees things.


    Another popular incarnation looks like this:

    CF Jacoby Ellsbury

    2B Dustin Pedroia

    LF Carl Crawford

    1B Adrian Gonzalez

    3B Kevin Youkilis

    DH David Ortiz

    C Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Jason Varitek

    RF J.D. Drew

    SS Marco Scutaro

    Ellsbury is already a legitimate MLB leadoff hitter. He led the American League with 50 SB in 2008 and the majors with 70 SB in 2009. He has a career .291 batting average and is mostly a gap/line-drive hitter with the potential to develop some moderate power.

    However, Ellsbury played in just 18 games last season due to multiple rib fractures throughout the year. Ellsbury became a popular whipping boy of the Boston media, who looked for a scapegoat to blame the team's troubles on. He faced unfounded criticism concerning his willingness to "play injured" and his loyalty as a teammate.

    A drop in the order would take some of the limelight off Ellsbury and would allow him to ease back into his role as a high-flier.

    However, Terry Francona has long maintained that the Red Sox are at their best when Ellsbury is the leadoff hitter, and I don't think the acquisition of Crawford will change that.

    A residency in the middle of the Red Sox order would mean fewer base stealing opportunities for Crawford and more chances to hit for power and extra bases. With guys like Ellsbury and Pedroia in front of him and Gonzalez, Youkilis and Ortiz behind him, Crawford would probably be the most protected hitter in baseball.

    All in all, what roster we see early in the season could depend on how well Ellsbury plays, but I think the Red Sox offense functions best in the second scenario listed above. Ideally, the Red Sox would be able to use that on most nights.

    The first lineup could be used against left-handed pitchers on occasion as well. The first six hitters in roster No. 1 feature a nice, even L/R/L/R/L/L split, and Drew (the sixth batter) could be replaced by the right-handed Mike Cameron in the lineup against most lefties anyway.

    Whatever the Red Sox do, they have the ability to put out a variety of interesting lineup looks.

Do the Red Sox Have the Best Defensive Outfield in Baseball?

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    The Boston Red Sox have three Gold Glove-caliber outfielders in J.D. Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford.

    Drew will never win the award, but his underrated fielding abilities are some of the best in baseball. He possesses an above average arm and almost never misjudges a baseball. He might not be blazing fast, but he almost always makes the quick, correct read and takes the most concise path to the ball.

    He plays perhaps the toughest right field in the American League on a daily basis, and he makes it look easy. Red Sox fans have been spoiled by his defensive play.

    Ellsbury is a high-flier with below average arm strength. He makes up for his arm, however, by rarely letting balls drop. He's athletic, fast and has good glove work. He's committed just two errors in 2,884.2 innings of Major League fielding, a span covering parts of four seasons (2007-10) and 371 games.

    Crawford is already one of the best defensive outfielders in the game of baseball. He won the first Gold Glove of his career in 2010 and posts a career UZR/150 of 14.8, including a 21.2 in 2010.

    The only criticism that could be made of Crawford's defensive game is his below average arm. However, this is no longer a problem, as Crawford gets to play in one of the shallowest left fields in baseball.

    The green monster made Manny Ramirez' arm look like a cannon from 2001-2008. It should have the same effect on Crawford.

Are There Too Many Lefties in the Red Sox Lineup?

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    This is a legitimate question, but one that Red Sox fans shouldn't be overly concerned with, especially after 2011.

    The Red Sox currently have five everyday players who bat left-handed: Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, J.D. Drew, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury.

    However, a number of these situations can be solved when you closely examine the roster that the Red Sox now boast.

    The Sox still have another $8 million invested in outfielder Mike Cameron, and despite the fact that he's coming off season-ending abdominal surgery in 2010, he could see a fair amount of playing time in center field and right field, especially when a left-hander is on the mound.

    Right fielder J.D. Drew is still an above average hitter against right-handed pitchers, yet is putrid against lefties. Just look at his 2010 splits:

    VS. RHP: 329 AB, 18 HR, 49 RBI, .277/.358/.517

    VS. LHP: 149 AB, 4 HR, 19 RBI, .208/.302/.309

    It would be foolish for the Red Sox to continue the charade of sending Drew up to the plate against lefties, especially when they have a suitable backup in Cameron. Drew and Cameron are both free agents after this year, and neither will be back, so the Sox don't have to worry about playing time issues that could be created.

    Also, the Red Sox should be able to get David Ortiz' bat out of the lineup if they feel inclined to sit him against any particular left-handed pitcher.

    The Sox have both SS Marco Scutaro and INF Jed Lowrie under contract for next season. There's some speculation that Lowrie's blistering end to the 2010 season could win him the starting job next year, but either way, he and Scutaro could be used in tandem when the Sox sit Papi.

    There are two situations that seem appropriate. First, and more likely, is that the Red Sox DH Kevin Youkilis, play Lowrie at third and put Marco Scutaro at SS.

    Or if they wish to give Adrian Gonzalez a day off without losing his bat, they could DH Gonzalez and play Youkilis at first, while maintaining Lowrie and Scutaro on the left side of the infield.

    It's also possible that Ortiz will not be back next season, which would remove another lefty from the lineup.

    Thus, long-term, the "left-handed issue" shouldn't be anything to worry about from a Boston fan's perspective.

Will the New York Yankees Respond?

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    Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth are both off the market, and the Red Sox have landed the two best offensive players available this offseason.

    We all know the Yankees are going after Cliff Lee, and they reportedly upped their offer to include a seventh year.

    But beyond Lee, will the Yankees make any offseason splashes? If someone the likes of Prince Fielder becomes available, would the Yankees go after him? Would the Yankees be able to pry Zack Greinke from Kansas City, even though he's said he wants no part of the Big Apple?

    This is all just speculation, but the Yankees are no stranger to blockbuster moves.

    But with all the top free agents (minus Lee) off the table, it's just as likely the Yankees stick with their (offensive) guns, while trying to acquire Lee and some much-needed bullpen help.

How Will the Deal Work Out Long-Term?

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    Carl Crawford will be 29 when he plays in the first year of his new seven-year deal.

    There can't be much in the way of concern over the next three, four and five years of the deal, as Crawford has been an outstanding athlete over his career and is still coming into his prime.

    However, the last year or two could potentially raise some issues. When/if Crawford's speed slips, how will he adjust? Will he be able to hit for more power and still be an All-Star-caliber player?

    One thing remains clear: Barring any catastrophic injury, Crawford will never be "slow," but his speed could decrease as he gets older.

    Red Sox fans can take some small comfort in the fact that possibly as early as this season, Crawford may take a new, less-than-frenetic approach to the game as he settles into the middle of the Red Sox lineup. This could limit the wear and tear that he experiences during his time in Boston and keep him better over a longer period of time.

    Also, if you're going to give a long-term deal to anyone, odds-on favorites say that the superior athlete has the best chance of maintaining a high level of play for a longer period of time.

    The question still remains, however, and we probably won't be getting a definite answer anytime soon.

How Will Crawford Fare in Fenway Park?

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    Throughout his career, Crawford is just a .275/.301/.406 hitter in 320 AB in Fenway Park.

    Numbers like that weren't what the Sox were looking for when they signed Crawford to a seven-year deal, but Sox fans should take solace, as his 2009 and 2010 numbers at Fenway were much better:

    2009: 38 AB, 13 H, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 SB, .342/.350/.500

    2010: 37 AB, 12 H, 4 2B, 0 3B, 7 SB, .324/.350/.432

    One could interpret his increased play at Fenway as the result of his improvements as a player and the fact that the Rays finally put a team around Crawford to protect him.

    Then again, oftentimes we read too much into statistics like this.

    It's hard to imagine Crawford not using the vast expanse of right-center and right field to his advantage. For a player so triples-oriented (105 career), there's hardly a better venue than the no-foul-territory and oddly-angled right field of Fenway Park.

    When Crawford decides he wants to hit for some power, he's got the Pesky Pole to wrap it around. When he occasionally wants to go the other way, he's got the Green Monster. He can pop fly a handful of singles if he wants to.

    With a player of his talent, it would be hard to imagine Crawford struggling anywhere he goes. Considering that Fenway is one of the more offense-prone parks in baseball, Crawford should be able to do fine in Boston.

    After all, he made a career at the Trop, which was dead last in MLB park factors with a measly 0.800 run value in 2010.

Will Carl Crawford Be the "Game Changer?"

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    When Terry Francona was asked about Carl Crawford this November on Boston sports radio station WEEI, this is what he had to say:

    "I think he’s a game changer. He’s that guy that can change a game defensively, offensively. When he gets on base, he gives you a headache.

    "He has a little bit of that Johnny Damon in him where, he’s swinging and I’m not sure he knows where the ball is going, but he fouls off six or seven and then he’ll rifle one into right field or bounce one and beat it out. He has a way of changing the game. It frustrates the heck out of you. Sometimes you can do everything right, and if he gets on base you can’t throw him out."

    It sounds like Francona is speaking from experience on this one...because he is.

    Over the past nine seasons, Crawford has been the perennial thorn in the Red Sox side. There's no one individual player who's provided a bigger "headache."

    Crawford has more at-bats against the Red Sox (604) than any other Major League team. In 144 games played against them, Crawford is a .300/.330/.442 hitter, including an unfathomable 61-of-62 stolen bases.

    That's right—the Red Sox have only thrown Carl Crawford out once on the basepaths. That one caught stealing game in 2005.

    Crawford even stole six bases in one game against the Red Sox in 2009, tying a modern era record.

    The Red Sox have seen Crawford's "game-changing" abilities firsthand, and now they're able to use his skills for their benefit of their ball club.

Is This the Makings of a Dynasty?

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    For over a decade, MLB has lacked a true dynasty, like that of the New York Yankees in the late 1990s. Of any team in baseball, the Boston Red Sox be in the best position to change that.

    The Red Sox have five position players under contract or arbitration until 2013 or later: Ellsbury, Youkilis, Pedroia (2015), Crawford (2017) and Gonzalez (2017, once he signs his contract). They also have Ryan Kalish to replace J.D. Drew after the 2011 season and Jed Lowrie/Jose Iglesias to take over at short.

    Of all the core position players that the Red Sox now have in their lineup (Crawford, Gonzalez, Youkilis, Ellsbury, Pedroia), only one is over 30: Youkilis, who is 31.

    For a lineup that looked so porous in 2010, a lot has changed. The Red Sox really only have questions at one position: catcher.

    However, they do have Jarrod Saltalamacchia on the MLB level. It would be hard for any fan to predict what exactly Salty will do with the majority share. He could run with it and become the player the Braves and Rangers thought he would be, he could struggle and be a huge bust, or he could be the measure of mediocrity. We just really don't know.

    The Red Sox do have catching prospects Luis Exposito, Mark Wagner, Tim Federowicz and Ryan Lavarnway. All are deemed to have some level of talent; however, none of the four are close to being Major League-ready.

    All in all, the Red Sox seem set on the position player front for years to come.

    The Sox also have two perennial Cy Young contenders in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. Both are legitimate No. 1 starters on any team right now and will be 27 and 26 years of age respectively at the start of next season.

    Despite struggles in 2010, the Sox also have John Lackey and Josh Beckett under contract until at least 2014. Both are talented pitchers, and given a clean bill of health, there's no reason to expect that both can't be effective pitchers in 2011.

    The Sox also have what's looking like a future top of the line closer in Daniel Bard.

    There's no denying the Red Sox have all the pieces in place to be in the World Series multiple times in the foreseeable future.