The Los Angeles Dodgers designated Carl Crawford for assignment yesterday, agreeing to pay the more than $30 million left on his original $144 million contract in exchange for him to not take up a spot on their 25 man roster. It’s the end of a really, really long fall for a guy who was once one of baseball’s most exciting young players.
When he signed with the Boston Red Sox in 2011, he was coming off a 7.7 WAR season with the Rays, one in which he posted a .310 average and 47 steals to go with 19 homers, 90 RBI and 110 runs scored. He finished 7th in the MVP race that year and was a bonafide star. When he left Tampa, his career WAR total was 36.8 through the first 9 years of his career. In the 6 seasons since then, he’s put up 5.3.
This season, before being cut by the Dodgers, his team since he was traded to LA before the 2013 season, Carl was batting just .185 with no homers and no steals and a -.8 WAR. Where he once was a star, he is now a below replacement level player.
What accounts for such a precipitous decline from a guy who’s still just 34 years old, a 4 time league leader in triples and 4 time league leader in steals? Well, this quote from an April profile in the LA Times says a lot:
“I played real aggressively on turf for nine years,” he said. “I’m lucky I’m still walking the way I’m walking now. I’m still walking, at least.”
Crawford seems to think the turf in Tropicana Field in Tampa took a lot off of his knees. It’s a theory that makes a lot of sense and I would say is very likely true. That sucks. Crawford was an amazing player to watch and it has been really sad watching him struggle through injuries and age these last few seasons. Since leaving Tampa, Carl has almost felt like a fish out of water, struggling to get by in what is clearly not his element.
That’s why I thought Tampa might be a likely destination for him now that he’s out of Los Angeles. With the Dodgers paying his salary, Crawford is a low risk, high upside veteran for a team in need of an offensive spark. Tampa, which is looking to contend in an AL East against much better funded competition, is always looking for such an edge. If Crawford doesn’t want to play on the turf again though, that pretty much puts an end to that.
So, if not Tampa, and not Boston again or LA, where is the next stage of Carl Crawford‘s career going to take him? Remember, whichever team signs him next will merely owe Crawford the major league minimum. Here are a few options:
New York Yankees: The Yankees definitely need some help, but I’m not sure that another past-his-prime former star is the way to go. This matchup would make more sense if the Yankees trade Brett Gardner. Then, New York would need a left field fill in until their prospects arrive. The Yankees recently cut Slade Heathcott so they might need to bring someone in in that case. If the Gardner trade were to happen, its still likely a few weeks away.
Kansas City Royals: With Alex Gordon on the DL, the Royals could use some outfield depth. Right now, Jarrod Dyson is the primary left fielder but he’s best suited in a 4th outfielder/ pinch runner/ occasional starter role. With Crawford in the mix, KC could rotate Crawford, Dyson, and Paulo Orlando through the corner spots until Gordon comes back. If Crawford flames out, the Royals wouldn’t have too much riding on him so they’d likely be just fine.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Arizona thought they’d compete this year. Instead they’re 9 games under .500. They just brought in Michael Borne as a veteran reclamation project, maybe Crawford could be another.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies are playing well above expectations and are just one game under .500. Their outfield, however, is underwhelming. Odubel Herrera has been great in center but the Peter Bourjos, Cody Asche, Tyler Goeddel trifecta in the corners isn’t exactly murder’s row. Crawford could be a really good flyer for a Phillies team that hopes to surprise some people.
San Fransisco Giants: Hunter Pence is going to be out for at least two months following the news that he needs surgery on his torn hamstring. The first-place Giants are currently planning on replacing him with Jarrett Parker. Have you ever heard of Jarrett Parker? Yup, that’s what I thought. Parker’s hit 13 homers in AAA so far this year, and it’s an even year, but the Giants would be wise to take out a hefty Jarret Parker insurance policy. Maybe the Giants bring Crawford in on a minor league deal and see if he hits at all at AAA. If he does, then he’s your Parker insurance policy.
In fact, it feels very likely that a minor league deal is the best option for Carl. He needs to prove himself, prove that he’s able to still play. It’s definitely possible that he’s just done; that his knees won’t ever be the same and he won’t ever be able to effectively compete at the major league level again. But in a world where Jeff Francoeur has started almost 20% of games as the Braves cleanup hitter, it sure feels like Crawford gets another shot somewhere soon.
I hope he does get that shot. I hope Crawford takes a minor league deal, works some things out, hits well enough in AAA to make it back to the majors this year or next. I hope he surprises some people and I hope he hits a home run against Boston and against LA.