2011: The Class of Carl Crawford

26 08 2010

Posted by cubs223425

In the offseason following the Yankees’ return to the top of the baseball world, the free agent hitting class lacked a sort of pizzazz (or as the bland may call it, depth).  Granted, there were a few secondary names on the market (Jason Bay, Chone Figgins–both who have flamed out), along with a few surprises (Adrian Beltre’s remembering what sport this is, Marlon Byrd’s anti-Bradley impact). Whether you were in favor of the contract he got or not (I was not), Matt Holliday was the clear-cut prize among the free agent bats last winter.

Holliday turned a stellar stint with the Cardinals (168 OPS+) into a ludicrous 7-year deal worth $120 million guaranteed (that can become 8/$136 million). Maybe this deal doesn’t look so puzzling in a market other than this past one, but the man had one legitimate suitor that would realistically fork over the money. The St. Louis Cardinals paid a premium for a premium talent in a not-so-premium market. Many teams were unable to spend big money, and even fewer had a desire to spend that much money on Holliday. Now, this deal has set the table for the biggest free agent hitter on the market after the 2010 season, Carl Crawford.

Like Holliday, Crawford is an elite left fielder, with the only other left fielder that can hold his own with Crawford’s astounding numbers being Texas’ Josh Hamilton, who we have seen can get hurt or fall on his face almost at will. Unlike Holliday, Crawford is a top-of-the-order hitter with super-human speed and an even better glove (a +22.1 UZR this season). So, how will Crawford’s contract stack up to that of Matt Holliday? Well, let’s compare the two:

Matt Holliday: Holliday was originally seen as a product of Coors Field, and not a whole lot more. The rugged start to his tenure in Oakland did little to quell the naysayers, and he was sent packing to St. Louis for a package centered around Brett Wallace (who was then sent to Toronto, then to Houston). That’s when it all changed. His defense was kind of rough at times (see: 2009 playoffs, 2010 All-Star game), but his bat was unquestionably destructive. What he did for the RedBirds put most of his Colorado work to shame, blasting 13 homers and rounding almost as many bases in 63 games with St. Louis (142) as he did with Oakland in 93 games (157). His .353/.419/.604 slash was monstrous, good for a 1.023 OPS.

Thanks to a stellar second half after being traded to the Cardinals in 2009, Matt Holliday was able to score a mega deal with the Cardinals, despite being a part of a relatively weak free agent class.

Now, in 2010, his numbers have simmered. His 168 OPS+ has dropped to 139 (his 2009 total, near his 133 career OPS+). At the time, though, he did more than enough to earn the big bucks as a free agent, and he definitely squeezed the Cardinals (who still have to worry about the Pujols negotiation) for every penny.

Carl Crawford: Crawford has seen his overall numbers take a rather odd turn. His slugging is up .021 (.452 to .473), but his OBP is down .015 (.364 to .349), meaning just a .006 rise in OPS+. But one must also account for the fact that his team has been on the losing end of 2 no-hitters this season, along with the league-wide dominance of pitchers this season. Now, that Crawford’s numbers have changed is not so much odd as that a #2 hitter is putting more over the wall and stealing fewer bases (though he’s still on a 162-game pace of 53.3).

According to UZR, Carl Crawford is the best defensive player in all of baseball.

Crawford has kept one thing consistent, though–his stellar defense. He is by far the best fielder in the game this season, with a +22.1 UZR (yes, that’s his UZR, not his UZR/150!). It is a 9.3 drop to second place, which belongs to Cincinnati’s Jay Bruce. The second-highest UZR among left fielder is an enormous drop to Juan Pierre’s +9.4 (a 12.7 drop). So, his UZR doubles that of the next-closest competition in left.

Where does all of this put Crawford in terms of a payday? It can be hard to say.

On one hand, you can argue that his bat doesn’t qualify him for as big of a payday as Holliday got. While the latter has a career 133 OPS+, Crawford’s got a somewhat surprisingly low 105 OPS+ for his career (though it sits at 120 this season). His place in the batting order does keep him from hitting in a lot of RBI situations, but he scores a lot of runs.

On the flip side, you have easily the best position player on the market. It just so happens he is the best fielder in baseball as well. You are getting an elite defender and base stealer, and while he may not be the masher Holliday is, he fits into either the 1- or 2-hole just fine, due to a high batting average, OBP, and buckets of steals. Either way, what he brings to the table is not the only deciding factor.

Last offseason, Holliday was it. Sure, you had Jason Bay there as well, but he was older, on bad knees, and a butcher in the field (that was masked by the Green Moster, which kept his lack of range from showing). After those two, you were staring into the abyss of Mark DeRosa and Mike Cameron, two players that have fallen well short of expectations. Now, after the 2010 season, the options are much better.

Crawford is still the cream of the crop, but you take a look immediately down, and you still have a dangerous Jayson Werth as a more than capable consolation prize. Even the next tier in this class is better. Some of the other outfielders available include Manny Ramirez, Aubrey Huff, Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez (who was hitting well before injury), Austin Kearns, and Jose Guillen. This crop of talent could keep Crawford from getting an insane deal, as could teams’ unwillingness to spend big like in the past. But with these added free agents comes an added need to fill those spots, and the list of suitors for Crawford is long.

Yankees: They always have money, even when you think they don’t.

Rays: Who know? Maybe they actually give out a big contract for once, since they are slashing Pena’s money from the payroll.

Angels: Seen as the favorite to sign him in many circles, even with Torii Hunter and Bobby Abreu there, plus the up-and-coming Peter Bourjos.

Red Sox: Mike Cameron hasn’t worked out, and Mike Lowell and David Ortiz could both be off of the books

Those are just the beginning. All of these things–his production, Holliday’s production, the production of other free agents, money, and need–are all major factors in this contract. What will he get? Who knows? What should he get? I have a reasonable idea.

If I am Crawford, I do not even consider taking less money than Holliday. With so many big market teams in the hunt for him (Yankees, Red Sox, Angels), Crawford should not be afraid to call a team’s bluff. Even if he were to do so and strike out with one, you have at least two other teams with deep pockets to go to.

To be more specific, I think he should start at one of three places:

1. Take Holliday’s deal, and add $1 million on for each of the seven season, plus the option year and buyout. This takes the deal to 7 years at $18 million annually, plus another $18 million option for 2018, with a $2 million buyout. So, this adds up to a deal worth $128 million guaranteed, which is fair if you consider Holliday got near that in a relatively barren market. Otherwise:

2. Take the same deal as Holliday–including the $17 million annual salary–and tack on another year. Make it a deal with eight guaranteed years and an option for a ninth.  The deal is guaranteed eight years and $137 million, with the potential for nine years and $153 million. What’s behind door number 3?

3. Keep the same deal as option two, but without the option year. It is still a solid eight years and $136 million, more than enough to feed his family.

Crawford’s camp likely would want the second option, because it guarantees the most money, but teams would likely prefer the first option, because it contains the least amount of money. So, take the middle ground and choose option three. The team gets a good hitter, a great runner, and a transcendent fielder, and Crawford gets the biggest deal any outfielder will be offered in free agency for a while.

So, there it is–my first topic covered and a way Crawford gets the cheddar he deserves.

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7 responses

26 08 2010
d-dizzle

gallarraga had his near no hitter against the indians bro.

26 08 2010
d-dizzle

it should also be taken into account that crawford’s biggest asset is his speed(duh) and speed deteriorates rather quickly. would he really be that perennial 10+ triples/50+ stolen base threat at 35? maybe…but i am not counting on it. he is no ricky henderson/lou brock.

26 08 2010
cubs223425

My mistake on the first–don’t know what I was thinking. I will edit that out for accuracy’s sake.

Still, even though speed can deteriorate quickly, look at guys like Scott Podsednik and Jose Reyes.

Pods has been around forever, and he’s still good for 30-40 steals. Reyes is still a burner, even though he’s had several leg strains and tears.

Ichiro is going on 37, and he is going to hit 35+ steals, easily.

On top of that, we all know that these big contracts end up albatross deals with people being vastly overpaid at the end of them.

Does anyone think Jeter is a $20 million player or that Rodriguez will be deserving of $20 million at 42?

Big time free agents are simple: you get 6-8 years of money for what you will do in the next 4-5 years, then you are an overpaid wash=out in most instances.

26 08 2010
d-dizzle

in fairness, i consider Ichiro in the same level as Henderson/Brock. he is a freak of nature.

reyes is only..what…27? of course he still has speed. but look at a guy like Soriano, former 40/40 man, then just has a complete nose dive.

26 08 2010
cubs223425

Yes, Reyes is 27, but that doesn’t change the fact that he has had several injuries that could have easily wrecked his running game (look at Mark Prior–did youth save him?).

Soriano is someone I had considered mentioning in here, but the article was getting too long already, and what he did was an extreme aberration.

What are there 4 40-40 seasons in the history of baseball (Soriano got close twice with a 39-41 and a 38-35)? He went 36-30 the year before and 28-18 the year before that–in 148 games.

Even though Ichiro may be the exception to the laws of time and physics, there are still others like Podsednik, Juan Pierre, and Coco Crisp who are all over 30 and pulling their weight on the bases.

And, as I said before, these deals always lkook moronic on the back end. Do you think Holliday will be an absolute, sure-fire #4 hitter at 36? I would bet by then, the Cards are looking to move him to be a DH somewhere while eating $8 million of that money.

Crawford’s speed may not hold up forever, but his defense is beyond anything anyone else in baseball can even come close to touching, so he could still be the best defender while losing a step or two.

Meanwhile, if Holliday loses that same step or two, he is probably a liability in the field, and he’s probably going to be a fringe .280-.290 hitter with 20 HR at that point, meaning he’s a good DH and not much more.

26 08 2010
New Law Era

Already done.

26 08 2010
cubs223425

Very nice addition with the pictures.

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