Carl Crawford Too Good for Tampa Bay Not to Sign Long-Term

Carl Crawford Too Good for Tampa Bay Not to Sign Long-Term For the past two weeks, the Tampa Bay Rays have had $10 million of next year’s payroll committed to Carl Crawford. But now, there’s reason to suspect the Rays are feeling a little afraid of commitment.

Here’s the situation. The Rays signed Crawford, their franchise outfielder, to a four-year contract extension back in April of 2005, guaranteeing him $15.25 million from ’05 to ’08 and also including club options for a fifth year and a sixth. The first four years of Crawford’s deal went swimmingly, with the young outfielder hitting .300 with 204 extra-base hits and 179 steals. He was the future, and the future was bright.

After going all the way to the World Series with Crawford leading the charge in 2008, the Rays were more than happy to bring him back for option year number one — $8.25 million later, Crawford was in a Tampa Bay uniform for 2009.

Now things get tricky. The Rays are no longer looking like World Series contenders. The ’09 edition of Joe Maddon‘s ballclub saw the defense regress, the pitching staff break down and the Yankees and Red Sox cruise to the playoffs. The Rays won 84 games for a decidedly mediocre third-place finish in the American League East.

With the Rays out of the playoff hunt for the time being, it makes sense to cut payroll. And Crawford, who was given a $10 million option for 2010, logically looked like the first to go. But on Nov. 9, the Rays threw Crawford a curveball, agreeing to pick up his option and denying the outfielder the chance to join Jason Bay and Matt Holliday on the free-agent market this winter.

It’s hard to be unhappy about being guaranteed an eight-figure paycheck. But Crawford wants more than that — he wants long-term job security. And he thought he was getting it.

“He had a handshake agreement with management that they would renegotiate the contract instead of picking up the option, and they went ahead and did it anyway,” a source told a New York baseball blog last week. “He’s pissed beyond belief.”

All Crawford wanted to was to have a job lined up after this season. But the Rays aren’t interested in giving him anything more than another year — and if Crawford can’t find a cushy job in Tampa, he wants it elsewhere.

So now he wants out. But his timing couldn’t be worse. He’s a corner outfielder, and he’s available on the trading block at the same time that many other corner outfielders (Bay, Holliday, Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye) are available on the open market.

But both sides have good reasons to get a deal done. Crawford wants to get moving on finding a long-term deal, and as for the Rays, they have no use for a $10 million outfielder when they have little hope of making a playoff run with him. A mutual breakup seems to make sense.

But it won’t be easy to find a team to take Crawford off the Rays’ hands. The usual suspects don’t look like likely suitors. The Red Sox aren’t looking to unload their young pitching prospects in a trade — what they really have to offer for a left fielder is money, and re-signing Bay is their top priority. The Yankees have an opening with Damon on the market, but it’s hard to imagine them putting together a trade package enticing enough to land Crawford.

If the Rays can’t find a trade that nets them equal value, they should suck it up and fork over the big bucks to keep Crawford long-term. They have a franchise player in Crawford — and he’s way too good to let him walk next season, leaving them with nothing. One way or another, they’ve got to sit down and make a deal.

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