Did Carl Crawford Trade Cooperstown for Cash?

Greed is good. 

-Gordon Gekko

The above is a vast oversimplification of Michael Douglas‘ brilliant speech in the 1987 movie Wall Street.  It also sometimes applies to our favorites sports teams, and the players who suit up in their uniforms1It without doubt is the mantra of one Scott Boras..  Sometimes greed can be good, because the thought of a big money deal will push a player to to perform above expectations, or perhaps even to expectations, because that athlete is well aware of the pay day at the end of the tunnel.  Think Jacoby Ellsbury following his 2013 season or David Price this off-season, for starters.  There are countless other examples across all major sports to suggest that this is not an uncommon trait amongst athletes, or people in any line of work, really.  Greed can be good.  Especially if it helps a favorite team to a Title.

Carl Crawford has yet to win a World Series Championship.  In fact, in his big league career, he has played in only one World Series (2008), with the Tampa Bay Rays, whom he would play for through the 2010 season.  During that time, he was his generation’s Willie Wilson, and his ceiling for greatness seemed unlimited.

In his 8 plus seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays (nee: Devil Rays), Crawford averaged nearly 50 SBs per season (409 total), compiled 105 triples, 104 home runs, and a .296 batting average.  On four separate occasions, he led the league in triples.  He also led the league in SBs four times, stealing at least 46 bases in 7 of his 8 full seasons2The only time he did not was in 2008, when he played in only  109 games.  He still managed to swipe 25 bases, however..

Then came free agency, and his shot at a big time pay day.  I was stoked when I heard the news that he was coming to my beloved Red Sox.  It seemed like a double win – not only would he put up monster numbers for the Red Sox, but he would no longer absolutely destroy them each time they matched up.  I was in Baseball Heaven.

Of course, little did I know, or little did anyone know that Crawford would not be able to handle the bright lights of the Big City that is Beantown.  He had always been so amazing, not one iota of concern was given.  This would turn out to be a crucial mistake not only for the Red Sox brain trust, but for Crawford’s career.

The Red Sox and their fan base lucked out in 2012 when the L.A. Dodgers came calling and took Crawford’s broken carcass off of their hands.  Crawford has not been so fortunate, as his career continues to tailspin.

Since signing his big money deal3ahh, was it really only 5 years ago that a 7 year deal averaging a hair over $20 million per constituted a big money deal?  Such a quaint period of time.  It seems like bench players and 4th starters make that much, now., Crawford’s numbers have plummeted.  Since the beginning of the 2011 season he has stolen a grand total of 71 bases, hit 17 triples, and 32 home runs.  He’s managed just a .2756 batting average, and his 2015 season was the worst thusfar of his MLB career.  According to his baseball-reference.com projections for 2016, things are not looking up for his age 34 season.

Now it’s possible that Crawford might have had this type of slide had his career continued on in Tampa Bay, we’ll never know.  They weren’t able to pony up Red Sox-type money in order to convince him to stay.  However, in Tampa, he had a pretty good thing going.  A manager that would do anything to motivate his players, a comfortable atmosphere where there wasn’t too much pressure on winning and losing4That’s not necessarily a good thing, but obviously Crawford thrived in the low pressure situation., and he was part of a dynamic, young team that appeared as if it would be in the mix of things for years to come in the A.L., at least.

Like many players who have come before him, and the multitude who have come since, Crawford didn’t see how good he had it.  Instead of sticking it out in Tampa, where he may have continued his ascension to a Cooperstown-type career, he cashed in and moved on.  It was his decision, and he’s been paid handsomely for it, despite his lack of production.

On the downside of all that is that when the next generation fans consider who the greats of today were, Crawford’s name is not likely to be mentioned.  Others in his position would be wise to consider that before moving on.

References
1 It without doubt is the mantra of one Scott Boras.
2 The only time he did not was in 2008, when he played in only  109 games.  He still managed to swipe 25 bases, however.
3 ahh, was it really only 5 years ago that a 7 year deal averaging a hair over $20 million per constituted a big money deal?  Such a quaint period of time.  It seems like bench players and 4th starters make that much, now.
4 That’s not necessarily a good thing, but obviously Crawford thrived in the low pressure situation.