2013 Dodgers in Review #16: LF Carl Crawford

90topps_carlcrawford.283/.329/.407 469pa 6hr 15sb .322 wOBA 2.9 fWAR A-

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.

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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.

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Next! Scott Van Slyke lives!

The Dodgers Will Trade An Outfielder, Unless They Don’t

ethier_stands_outfield

I have to be honest, I’m not particularly interested in writing about trading one of the Dodger outfielders. We all know the score by now, don’t we? The team has four highly-paid outfielders, which is one too many even if you don’t consider Joc Pederson, except that all four can stay healthy at the same time precisely never. Trade one of them and risk having not enough healthy outfielders and more days where guys like Skip Schumaker & Jerry Hairston are starting; don’t trade one of them, and risk having an expensive, unhappy veteran on the bench.

That being said, it’s going to be a topic of conversation all winter long, so we can’t avoid it. Ken Rosenthal kicks it off today:

That possibility, in fact, already is in the works; the Dodgers, according to major-league sources, are listening on Matt KempAndre Ethier and Carl Crawford, telling prospective suitors, “If you’re interested in one of them, make us an offer.”

This is presented as news, but it’s not, really. “Team willing to not hang up on someone proposing a trade” isn’t really earth-shattering, and you should always really listen on every player, even if you have no real intention of moving them.

And that’s sort of the problem here. Even if you do want to trade one of them — and by “them” I mean Ethier, Kemp, and Crawford, because Yasiel Puig isn’t going anywhere —  their contracts and injury histories make it difficult to expect a solid return. Or as a “rival exec” replied to Rosenthal when asked which one was the most desirable, “none”.

Which is totally fair. I don’t need to remind you how painful Kemp’s 2013 was, nor of the $128m still due him. Crawford’s season was better than we had any right to expect considering just how uncertain he was after two awful years in Boston and Tommy John surgery; he’s also no longer a star, going to turn 33 next year, with $81.5m still coming, and missed time with hamstring injuries. And while Ethier certainly made himself a lot more valuable in the second half after making his extension look so, so bad one year in, he’s still an obviously flawed player who cannot hit lefties, will soon be 32, and has potentially $86.5m remaining if his reasonably attainable 2018 player option vests.

In the right deal, I’d move any of the three — yes, even Kemp, because while the fan in me wants him to be a Dodger forever, the objective observer in me understands that a trade can’t ever be off the table. And all have some amount of value, especially if the Dodgers eat a good deal of the contract, and Ethier seems to be the one most likely to move. (Mets fans and writers are already hypothesizing about it, actually, but Daniel Murphy isn’t that interesting and it’s certainly not like David Wright is coming back, so prepare yourself for mid-level minor leaguers.)

The problem is that for me, “the right deal” includes getting something useful back. It can’t just be a salary dump, especially in Kemp’s case, because I still believe he can be a high-quality player when healthy. But with so much money still due all three of these questionable players, it’s easy for another team to say “screw it, I’ll just get into the Carlos Beltran or Curtis Granderson” sweepstakes, for less risk and without sending back talent. That’s what makes finding “the right deal” difficult or potentially impossible. And that’s what’s going to make a winter of rumors around these three such a long, complicated one, because believe me, we haven’t heard the last of this.

The Nick Punto Trade With Boston, One Year Later

punto_2013-08-05

A year ago tomorrow, I was riding the bus to Boston, of all places, and freaking out about the enormous trade that was coming together with the Red Sox that would bring the Dodgers Nick Punto, three other guys, and more than $250 million in contract responsibilities, all while sending Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster out of town. The next day, I managed to put some more coherent thoughts to it:

So how am I feeling about it today? I think Adrian Gonzalez is going to be an incredible fit in LA, especially considering that reports of his demise in Boston seem overblown (he was outstanding last year and has been very good for much of this year after a slow start) and that he never seemed to want to leave Southern California in the first place. It’s a high price to pay, but if he is what we think he is – and don’t forget, there was little available in the first base market next year, so if you’re spending money, this is how you do it – and the team becomes a consistent contender, I think it’ll be a price we can live with.

We may still be a day or two short of a full year later, but as the Red Sox come in to town to face the Dodgers tonight in what many expect may be a World Series preview, it’s an appropriate time to look back. Today at ESPN, I offer the opinion that it’s been a win/win, one that neither side would take back. It’s behind the paywall, and a man’s got to eat, so I won’t excerpt much of it here, other than to say that this is how it ends:

The Dodgers wouldn’t be in this position without Gonzalez, and the Red Sox wouldn’t be here with him. It’s hard to think of a better outcome for both sides than that.

Let’s take a look at what’s happened with a year’s worth of knowledge on our side.

To Los Angeles

Josh Beckett (0.4 WAR with Dodgers)
We tried our best to both not get bummed by Beckett’s declining velocity while also not get sucked in by the not-at-all-representative 2.93 ERA he put up in seven starts for the Dodgers last year, all while hoping he could merely be a fourth starter. Instead, Beckett was atrocious in eight starts this year (somehow while missing more bats than he had in years) and was eventually lost for the season after undergoing surgery to relieve Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. He’s under contract for 2014, but his role is unclear.

Carl Crawford (2.3 WAR with Dodgers)
Obviously the biggest question mark of the deal, not only because of how awful he was with the Red Sox, but because of the Tommy John surgery he underwent just beforehand, Crawford has been a pleasant surprise. After fixing his batting stance, he filled the long-time hole at leadoff and was arguably the team’s best hitter for the first six weeks, though he’s since dealt with both slumps and hamstring injury. Overall, he’s hit .289/.340/.413 with plus defense, and while he’s certainly not what he was at his peak in Tampa Bay and terrifies me about how the rest of his contract will play out, he’s been a net positive for this team in 2013. Considering how much uncertainty he brought with him, I’m guessing we all take that.

Adrian Gonzalez (3.2 WAR with Dodgers)
The whole point of the trade for the Dodgers was to get Gonzalez, of course, and he’s been worth it, though it depends on how you look at it. On one hand, his .346 wOBA is the same as it was last year, each of which is tied for the worst of his career. On the other hand, the last Dodger first baseman to have a more valuable season than he is was Eric Karros, way back in 1999, and he was one of the few productive Dodgers over the first two months of the season. He is, according to WAR, the seventh most productive first baseman in baseball this year, and I can’t really complain about that — especially when Joey Votto & Prince Fielder make well over $200m and the alternatives were…. who, exactly?

Nick Punto (1.8 WAR with Dodgers)
We derisively call this “the Nick Punto” deal, because it’s fun to imagine Ned Colletti insisting on adding yet another gritty veteran infielder or he’d kill the deal entirely, but Punto has been an asset in Los Angeles. Punto has played far more than anyone expected he would as injuries & ineffectiveness hit second, third, and shortstop, and he was the choice over Dee Gordon & Justin Sellers when Hanley Ramirez missed recent time with a shoulder injury. He was valuable, too, hitting .340/.427/.420 through May 25. That was never, ever, ever, going to last, and it didn’t — he’s just .199/.265/.270 since — though he’s at least provided value on defense.

To Boston

Ivan De Jesus, Jr. (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
De Jesus was absolutely never going to get a shot with the Dodgers, fairly or not, then struck out in six times in eight hitless appearances for Boston. After the season, he was traded to Pittsburgh as part of the Joel Hanrahan / Mark Melancon deal, and while he’s hit well with Triple-A Indianapolis (.323/.383/.462), he hasn’t seen any time in the big leagues. Heading into his age-27 season next year, he’s running out of time to make a career.

92topps_rubbydelarosaRubby De La Rosa (-0.2 WAR with Red Sox)
It’s safe to say that this was the part that hurt the worst, because De La Rosa had been a very highly regarded prospect with the Dodgers before blowing out his elbow in 2011, and he’d made it back for one appearance with the team before the trade. So far, RDLR has had a pretty rough season with Boston, making only five big league appearances (all in relief) while struggling to find his control in Triple-a (5.08 BB/9 in 21 games, all but one as a starter). As we remember, control was never his strong suit, and guys coming off Tommy John surgery often need some time to get it back.

James Loney (-0.1 WAR with Red Sox)
Our favorite punching bag hit just .230/.264/.310 in 106 plate appearances for the Red Sox, somehow contributing even less than he had with the Dodgers. That earned him a mere $2m on a one-year deal from Tampa Bay over the winter… where he’s now hitting .311/.360/.439 and has nearly the exact same wOBA and WAR that Gonzalez does. Baseball is a weird, weird, game sometimes. But I think we all know that for whatever reason, he was never going to succeed like that in Los Angeles.

Jerry Sands (n/a for Red Sox)
Man, remember when we all thought Sands was going to be, well, not a star, but at least a quality major leaguer? Sands never played with Boston since he was a “player to be named later” after the season, then went with De Jesus to Pittsburgh. In 99 games for Triple-A Indianapolis, he’s hit .212/.318/.340 with seven homers. What happened?

Allen Webster (-0.3 WAR with Red Sox)
Like De La Rosa, losing Webster hurt, especially with how much hype he got as he impressed during spring training. But while he’s been good in Triple-A, he’s struggled terribly in six starts for the Red Sox, putting up a 9.57 (!) ERA with massive homer problems. He’s still only 23, of course, and has plenty of time to work things out.

Of course, it was never really about the players for the Red Sox, it was about changing the culture and clearing the bad payroll — which they have done successfully, as WEEI’s Alex Speier goes into painstaking detail about here. As you’d expect, the Dodgers are better off in the short-term for the deal, while the long-term is uncertain; the Red Sox are definitely better off in the long-term, but surprisingly have been far improved this year, too.

I still wish the Dodgers didn’t have to give up De La Rosa and Webster, because it’s hard to imagine that the Red Sox really would have balked at, say, Chris Reed & Chris Withrow, if they were getting rid of all that money. Still, the Dodgers did at least hang on to Zach Lee & Joc Pederson, so while it’s not a perfect trade… it’s one I’m not unhappy about a year later. Considering the massive risk involved, that might be all we can ask for.

Dodgers 2, Brewers 0: The Stars Lead the Way

carl_crawford_openingday2013The heroes may have been few for the Dodgers today — Clayton Kershaw, Carl Crawford, & Nick Punto (!) were really the only ones who did anything of note — but sometimes, you just need the big dogs to take care of business.

I’d say Kershaw & Crawford did that and then some, wouldn’t you agree? Kershaw struck out 12 hitters for the fifth time in his career (including his career-high of 13, back in 2009), and did so without a single walk. That 12/0 combination is something he’s done just once before, in 2010 against the Cubs. Only one Brewer reached third base, and at one point Kershaw retired 18 consecutive batters. For any other pitcher, this would be a phenomenal achievement. For Kershaw, it’s almost par for the course. He’s. Just. That. Good.

Of course, were it not for Crawford’s two longballs, we might be sadly watching Kershaw walk home with another no-decision, because the offense was stagnant once again. Other than Punto, who had three singles, and Juan Uribe, who had one, no other Dodger reached base against Kyle Lohse and Mike Gonzalez.

For Crawford, his two homers doubled his season total and put him into the team lead with four; it was also the sixth time in his career he had two homers in one game.

With the win, the Dodgers even their record at 12-12 headed into what’s suddenly an interesting series against Colorado, who called up top third base prospect Nolan Arenado to make his debut today.

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Yes, Yasiel Puig was arrested early this morning in Tennessee, and no, that’s not great. The best I can say here is that at least reckless driving isn’t drunk driving, but even that’s small comfort. As you remember, it became a fun sport for some to insist that he “was ready” and that the Dodgers were foolish for not bringing him up; well, here’s evidence that he’s not ready. Being ready for the big leagues means more than just learning how to hit a curveball, and this isn’t the first we’ve heard about some attitude issues here. Here’s to hoping Puig learned a lesson today.

 

Carl Crawford Making a Wonderful First Impression

crawford_headon_april2013Yesterday on Twitter, I joked that at this early point in the season, 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.

That’s obviously not quite the way it went down, but after the first week of games, Crawford has unquestionably been the team’s offensive star so far. Remember when “who in the world is going to hit leadoff?” was the biggest concern for half of the winter? Crawford has filled the role admirably, leading the team in hits, runs, and stolen bases, while showing an adequate enough — if still far from outstanding — arm in left field.

I’m not even going to share his stat line, because it’s immaterial after 22 plate appearances — and if I did, we’d have to talk about that .563 BABIP, too — but just consider all the uncertainty about him headed into the year. Would his elbow be healthy? Would his wrist? Was his awful showing in Boston more than just being injured or uncomfortable? Would this be more than $100 million simply flushed down the drain?

I can’t stand here on April 8 and say that we truthfully know the answers to any of those questions, because again, six games. But I will say that Crawford getting off to a good start was perhaps more important than it was for anyone except Luis Cruz, and Cruz has failed badly in that regard. As Matt Kemp struggles, we understand that he’s a great player who had his winter routine disrupted by surgery. If Clayton Kershaw struggled — as though that’s even possible — he gets all the slack in the world, given his history. But if Crawford got off to a poor start, especially with Yasiel Puig already looking good in Chattanooga, you don’t imagine Dodger fans would have given him much benefit of the doubt, and an uncertain leadoff spot would have quickly become a gaping hole wasted on Skip Schumaker & Mark Ellis.

Instead, Crawford’s looked excellent, consistently putting men on for Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, & Andre Ethier. (That they haven’t done much with those opportunities, at least until yesterday, is a separate issue entirely.) An effective Crawford changes the dynamic of this offense considerably, especially considering there’s at least two black holes — three if you count the pitcher, four if the regulars get a day off — being sent out on a daily basis.

Again, it’s only a few games, and whether this is just a small sample size thing or a brief period of health before he inevitably injures himself again remains to be seen. Still, when I did an in-depth examination of him a few weeks ago, what we kept coming back to was how absurdly open his stance was when he was performing badly in Boston, as you can see in this example from April 2011:

crawford_2011-04-08_redsoxWhen he was successful in Tampa, his stance wasn’t as open and his bat was certainly not at a flat angle, behind his head. Here he is yesterday, and while Pirates righty Chris Leroux partially blocks the view of his feet, you can see both there and in the headline picture above that his bat is at nearly a 45-degree angle.

crawford_stance_april-7-2013We’ll see if this is an early season mirage, or if the changes he’s been able to make stick. If so, we’re not going to be talking about the nine-figure albatross that the Dodgers had to eat to get Gonzalez. We’ll be talking about the leadoff man doing a great job setting up opportunities for the heart of the Dodger order.

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