Crawford's playing like an MVP, but is this his last hurrah in Tampa?
He's a multi-talented left-handed hitter in his prime, an MVP candidate having the best year of his dynamic career. He's a vital young veteran surrounded by kids, a year and change away from free agency. His lower-revenue team sorely needs him, but the economic realities of the game are about to make a trade a real possibility, perhaps as soon as this offseason.
A closer look at Crawford's contributions points to a player who deserves far more credit than he's received to date. The 28-year-old Texan has rolled up an impressive .316/.372/.466 line for the season. He's also perennially one of the best defenders at his position in the big leagues. His
What truly sets Crawford apart, though, is his prolific -- and highly efficient -- basestealing. He's swiped 52 bases in 61 tries this season, good for a gaudy 85.2 percent success rate. In his first seven full big league seasons, Crawford has topped 50 steals five times and 40 steals six times. His 82.9 percent career success rate ranks him just below some all-time speed demons, including
Add up all of his talents and you have a player who deserves consideration for American League MVP honors this season. Crawford ranks sixth among AL position players with 4.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) level so far this season, according to statistical analysis Web site FanGraphs.com. In other words, putting Crawford on the field instead of the average waiver-wire player or Triple-A lifer has earned the team just over four wins so far this year, on pace for six wins for the entire 2009 campaign. He faces some stiff competition in that department, including marquee names like Mauer and
As is their wont, the Rays signed Crawford to a four-year deal in 2005, buying out his arbitration years to ensure cost certainty. (The team signed Longoria to a similar contract just six days into his major league career, a deal that now looks like the biggest bargain and shrewdest contract in the majors from a team perspective; top starter
The going rate for each win that a player provides is just over $4.5 million, according to FanGraphs. At 4.1 WAR this season, that means Crawford's value to the Rays works out to $18.6 million. If he keeps performing the way he has this season, his worth to the Rays would work out to nearly $25 million. Even if you want to factor in some regression or possible injury for 2010, the projection remains the same: Crawford will probably be a major bargain next season.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple when you're a lower-revenue team trying to compete against teams with payrolls two, or even three times larger -- especially when those teams play in the same division. Even if Crawford finishes his season with a flourish, pushes the Rays back into the playoffs and wins AL MVP, the team will strongly consider trading him this offseason.
That may sound terribly sad and cruel, a reminder of how tough it is for teams to compete on relatively small major-league payrolls. Last week,
If any team can overcome these increasingly higher obstacles, though, it's the Rays. Thanks to a decade of futility, the Rays stockpiled top draft picks like
What has set the Rays apart has been their superior planning and decision making. When the team stockpiled a raft of toolsy outfielders but lacked pitching and defense, Tampa Bay flipped
As the Rays head into the offseason, they'll face that tough decision with Crawford: trade him to add younger, cheaper assets at key positions, or hold him through 2010, then collect compensatory draft picks when he signs a highly lucrative deal in New York or Boston or Chicago or L.A. The Rays have
That's right. If the Rays swallow hard and trade an MVP candidate left fielder four months from now, they won't be rebuilding, or executing some nebulous five-year plan that never pans out. More likely, they'll remain contenders in 2010 and beyond. They'll just have the equivalent of Carl Crawford's little brother, and not Carl Crawford, patrolling left field.