2013 in brief: Not exactly the superstar he was in Tampa, but proved to be a valuable piece of the team.
2014 status: You’ll hear trade rumors all winter, but with $20.25m coming to him next year and $82.5m more still due, he’s not going anywhere but left field for the Dodgers.
It’s truly difficult to overstate just how big of a question mark Carl Crawford was coming into the season. We’d seen Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto, and Josh Beckett over the last month of 2012, but we had no idea what to expect out of Crawford. He’d been terrible in two seasons with Boston, and had undergone Tommy John surgery in the days prior to the trade. No one knew if and when he’d be healthy; when he was, no one had any idea what to expect out of him.
The one thing that I did think I knew was that if he was physically able, there was hope. On March 20, I dug into the changes in his batting stance over the years, figuring that if he was just able to keep his stance closed, there was some reason to think he could contribute — and in the first few days of spring (he didn’t make his debut until March 17), it looked he was doing just that:
It’s a pretty stark difference, as pitchers routinely pitched Crawford away and he was completely unable to do anything about it. In 2012, as he went back to his older, more open stance, there was hope; while he was completely impatient, leading to a lousy .305 OBP, his .197 ISO and .479 SLG (in limited playing time, of course), ranked among the better numbers of his career.
It’s overly simplistic to simply attribute Crawford’s struggles to his stance, because there was obviously a lot more going on there — things like injuries, an uncomfortable fit in Boston, a contract that was widely seen as an overpay even at the time it was signed. He might not stay healthy in Los Angeles, and his best days might be — hell, probably are — behind him. But if we’re looking for any reasons for optimism, and any indication that giving Crawford a chance to prove himself while sending Puig out is the right thing, seeing him get back to the closed stance and upright bat that gave him so much success in Tampa Bay looks like a really good start.
Crawford not only made it back for Opening Day, he kicked in a double among two hits. In fact, he was so good — in his first seven starts, he had multiple hits six times — that it took only until April 8 until we were fawning all over him, joking that “Ned Colletti was looking really good for agreeing to eat all of that Adrian Gonzalez money in order to acquire Carl Crawford from the Red Sox last August.”
He showed some power too, hitting four homers in April (including two on the 28th) and by the end of the month he was hitting .308/.388/.516. It was stunning not just because of what he’d done only a month after we weren’t sure when he’d even play, but because you might remember that in a world without Yasiel Puig or Hanley Ramirez or a healthy Matt Kemp, when we were still watching Luis Cruz every day, Crawford’s contributions looked all the more impressive.
It didn’t quite last, of course, as the nagging injuries popped up. Crawford missed the first few days of May with a sore right hamstring, then hurt the left one on June 1 in Colorado (of course) and sat out more than a month. When he returned, he was down (.225/.257/.268 in July), up (.302/.353/.387 in August), and down again in September (.267/.286/.413) as he struggled off and on with a sore back.
Of course, you may remember that his postseason included not one, or two, or three, but four homers in just ten games. In 116 games on the season, he was worth three wins, and if you accept he’s a lesser version of what he used to be — good defense, but not elite; some steals, but also not elite – and try not to think about the contract too hard while enjoying that the Dodgers finally have a reasonable leadoff option, you should be nothing but thrilled at the season he provided.
Next! Scott Van Slyke lives!