This isn't Carl Crawford's fault.
Well, not all of it. There has to be some personal accountability, of course. But let's be fair about this: Crawford seems absolutely mortified about his disastrous first two seasons in Boston. One of the reasons -- probably the main one, actually -- he's still liked by the fans is his willingness to be accountable. Other players (and those in the front office) should take note -- it goes a long way when a player appears legitimately contrite and honest.
"When you sign for $100 million and stuff like that, it's no secret," Crawford told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford in July. "You feel like you owe it to the team to do that kind of stuff. You make a lot of money so you definitely want to try and pay that back. It's like you owe that to the team to try and do that."
File under: Things never said by John Lackey or J.D. Drew.
Now Crawford's season is over, he'll have Tommy John surgery this week. He has played 161 games in two seasons and his numbers look like this:
.260 average, 14 HR, 75 RBI, .292 OBP, .419 slugging percentage.
For that production Crawford has collected $34.5 million. And he has five years left on his contract for $102.5 million.
If you think the first two years of Crawford's contract were a total wipeout for the money -- and we all do -- and the last two years of the contract were a clear overpay just to ensure that Crawford signed -- and it was, no one expects Crawford to be the player he was in Tampa when he's 35 years old -- the next three years will be Crawford's only chance to make a true impact.
Three years, $142 million. And guess what? He's going to miss some of 2013 recovering from Tommy John surgery. Could be seven months, could be nine months, could even be a full year before he's back to full strength.
OK, two years, $142 million.
Is this the worst contract in Red Sox history?
Think before you answer. J.D. Drew, for all his many faults, won a championship in Boston. In 2007 he hit .360 in the ALCS (with a pretty significant grand slam) and .333 in the World Series. He had a plus-.900 OPS in 2008 and 2009 (his overall OPS for the Sox was .824, which is 113 points higher than Crawford's in Boston). For the all the (deserved) durability knocks, Drew averaged 121 games a year in his five seasons with the Sox. Not exactly Lou Gehrig, but Crawford has averaged 80.5 games the last two years.
Which is looking better right now: Drew at $70 million over five years or Crawford at $142 million over seven years?
As hideous as John Lackey has been, his contract is still $60 million less than Crawford's, a staggering amount. Daisuke Matsuzaka will be viewed, correctly, as a flop, another free agent whiff. Well, he was a contributor to a World Series winner and was third in Cy Young voting in 2008. Two seasons of production and then he was useless. But, to date, that's much more than Crawford has offered and for less money.
(Think about this: Josh Beckett, Crawford, Matsuzaka and Lackey will be paid a combined $63 million this season -- just about the payroll of the Rays -- and, due to injury and/or ineffectiveness will have basically contributed zero to the 2012 Red Sox. Run, Theo, run.)
Crawford deserves blame, as we noted, and he's been happy to take it. But it's worth looking at how badly the Red Sox have bungled the entire Carl Crawford Experience, soup to nuts.
First, everyone knew he wasn't worth $142 million (perhaps including the rest of baseball: his next-highest offer was reportedly $108 million from Anaheim -- although some major league sources insist that the Angels made a comparable offer to the one accepted by Crawford from the Red Sox -- and the Yankees passed). Crawford was a very good player in Tampa, but not a great one. He played nine seasons in the major leagues and has finished in the top 10 in MVP voting exactly one time. In his final season with Tampa he was 36th in the majors in OPS and 44th in on-base percentage. The year before that? He was 69th in OPS and 55th in OBP. Is that a game-changing player, a $142 million player? Of course not.
And I have to believe Theo Epstein knew this, Ben Cherington knew this. Crawford was the kind of player they would never have signed before that offseason. His career road OBP with the Rays was .330, his career Fenway slugging percentage was .406. And a low-OBP, speed-reliant player doesn't age well. Crawford struck me as an ownership move at the time, an answer to low NESN ratings and an apathetic fan base. Instead of thinking about 2014 and 2015 and 2016, the owners thought about winning the 2011 offseason, and that's usually a quick route to exactly where they are today.
Crawford had wrist issues, issues Joe Maddon and the Rays knew about and Crawford said had existed for five years. Also there were confidence issues for Crawford, turns out a major market might not have been the best fit.
This is all before Crawford plays his first game with the Sox. It took two games in a Sox uniform before Terry Francona dropped him to seventh in the batting order. Deserved or not -- and a case could be made that Crawford was the seventh-best hitter on that team -- that sends a helluva message to Crawford. He spent 61 games last season either hitting seventh or eighth in the order, which is almost impossible to believe for a guy in the first year of a $142 million deal. Crawford has admitted the move affected his confidence -- though he was actually most productive in the seventh spot last year -- and he had difficulty communicating with Francona. From a pure baseball decision I understood where Francona was coming from -- the reality is that Crawford, with a career OPS of .688 against LHP, is the highest-paid platoon player in history -- but the swiftness of such an extreme move sent a clear message.
So Crawford has his worst season in 2011 and the Red Sox suffer the worst collapse in baseball history. Not a swell start. Well, remember the bit about Crawford's accountability? You saw the opposite of that on Oct. 15 as John Henry threw Crawford under the bus, backed up and then drove over him again, telling CBS radio that he "opposed" signing Crawford.
"In fact, anyone involved in the process, anybody involved in upper management with the Red Sox would tell you that I personally opposed that,” Henry said. “Why? Because we had plenty of left-handed hitting. I don’t have to go into why. I’ll just tell you that at the time, I opposed the deal."
If Crawford had hit .330 with 130 runs and 60 stolen bases, anyone think Henry would have been making those same objections known? If you own a team you own a team. Every move, good or bad, is yours. Henry's reasons for opposing the signing aren't flawed, but it sent a terrible message.
And now we arrive at the decision to let Crawford play this season, when Tommy John surgery was inevitable. He played 31 games in what was already a wasted season when he arrived on July 16 (the Sox were 45-44 at the time). At times Crawford played well, at times he looked an awful lot like the Crawford we saw in 2011.
But why wait until now to have the surgery? I could go along with Crawford playing if the Sox had a legitimate chance to make the playoffs, were a real World Series threat. If he's in the same situation a year ago, with the Sox 30 games over .500? Sure. But this makes no sense -- you're hurting 2013 to salvage an already lost season. Crawford has spent the last month publicly begging the Sox to allow him to have Tommy John surgery (have you ever heard of an athlete having to use the media to make a case to have season-ending surgery?), and the team one day changes its collective mind and agrees. How does that work, exactly?
Carl Crawford's contract is looking like the worst in Sox history. Low production, serious injury issues. And the blame starts with Crawford. He has failed the Red Sox through two seasons.
But the Red Sox also have failed Crawford. Not in a monetary sense, obviously -- all the checks have cleared, I'm guessing -- but they have done a lousy job of putting him in a position to succeed.
Think both sides would like a mulligan?