With the Red Sox just hours away from opening their 2011 season, anticipation is obviously riding high. Among the many reasons for optimism are the newest Red Sox, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. The centerpieces of the Sox' offseason have World Series visions spreading in minds throughout New England, but not according to Boston.com's Tony Massarotti.
"Crawford? He is a dynamic player. The problem is that he is being paid in excess of $20 million per year and he is not really a $20 million player," Massarotti wrote in his season preview, in which he dubbed Crawford as a player Most Likely to Disappoint. "Regarded as temperamental, this is his first time in a big market, let alone a hyper-intense one. This year could be a huge adjustment for him. Just be prepared for it."
While the argument that Crawford, with his 14 homers per season since 2004, isn't a $20 million player might have been valid five years ago, it's just not anymore. J.D. Drew wasn't "worth" $14 million per season in '07, but he's been a valuable and reliable member of the Red Sox ever since (he's averaged 131 games per season, for all you naysayers). John Lackey likely isn't "worth" $16.5 million per season, and Josh Beckett's stats might not live up to the idea of a "$17 million pitcher," but the market dictated that to be their price.
The same goes with Crawford. He may not really be "worth" $20 million per season over the next seven years, but that's how much he cost. Sometimes, you have to spend more for something you need. If you've been filling your automobile with gasoline over the past month or so, then you know that reality all too well.
Also, look around the league. Manny Ramirez made $18.7 million last year to hit nine home runs. Derek Jeter made $22.6 million to hit .270. Alex Rodriguez also hit .270, and he was paid $33 million to do so. Sky-high contracts are commonplace in the game today, and four-time All-Stars cost a lot of money.
They also perform rather well.
He's played, on average, 146 games per season since 2003, playing in at least 143 games in all but one of those years. He's been a remarkably consistent hitter, with his average never dropping below .273 and climbing as high as .315. He's averaged 27 doubles per season and he's led the league in triples in four of the last seven seasons. At Fenway, with massive free space in deep right-center field and with a triple-hitter's dream down the line in right, there should be plenty more opportunities for those 81 times a year.
When he's not hitting for extra bases, he's stealing them, leading the league in that category in four of the last eight seasons and averaging an even 50 over that time span.
Listeners of The Felger and Massarotti Show know that the latter believes steal totals to be nothing more than a "fantasy stat," a number that, come season's end, doesn't mean all that much. But there, he's wrong. While the lasting effect of a 40-steal campaign may not differ greatly with that of, say, a 60-steal season, steals are nevertheless valuable. For one, the threat of a steal affects the pitcher — his focus, his delivery, his mind-set. Second, they call it "scoring position" for a reason. Advancing to second eliminates double-play possibilities and, in the case of Crawford, will allow the likes of Kevin Youkilis, Adrian Gonzalez and David Ortiz to drive in a run with a base hit.
While steals may not warrant a $20 million contract, they help a team win. Crawford figures to be able to do that for the next few years.
The guy is good, he's 29 years old, and he adds a dimension to the Red Sox' lineup that any team would love to have. If you're disappointed by that, your standards are more than a little bit out of whack.
What are your expectations for Carl Crawford this year? Share your thoughts below.