At first glance, it might appear that Carl Crawford is hardly who the Mets need. Another outfielder? Another big money, long-term deal after all of the terrible ones the team has committed to?
First off, we have zero idea what to expect from our returning starters. Jason Bay had been a consistently good producer, but will return as a 32 year old coming off a terrible partial season and a concussion which ended that season after 95 games.
Carlos Beltran? He started to look good for a few games, and then had yet another injury setback, which will probably make him untradeable this offseason. It is impossible to predict what he might be in 2011.
Despite many fans’ love affair with Angel Pagan, a careful look at his season might be educational. Yes, Met fans can be excused for overvaluing a rare Met who constantly hustles and is not averse to getting his uniform dirty and actually being ready to play every day. But before people start screaming that he was our MVP–which he wasn’t–Pagan was atrocious offensively in all of August and September; not mediocre, atrocious. Pagan’s OBP was .304 in the second half. In the months of August and September, he had 10 2B, 0 3B, and 2 HR in 221 AB—care to calculate that SLG pct?
A pretty good player, a good fielder, a fast runner, a good man who hustles and clearly worked hard to put his constant 2009 mental errors behind him, his final 2010 numbers were very much back to his career norms; Pagan remains a great fourth outfielder for a championship-caliber team, and maybe a slightly above average one overall. Did the league figure him out? Was he hurt and/or tired? Regardless, there’s nothing too spectacular about an outfielder with his overall numbers, as great of a hustling guy as he may be.
Carl Crawford has been a serious producer basically his entire career. Indeed, his numbers are often very similar to Jose Reyes’ during Jose’s excellent 2006-2008 years, but over a longer period and more consistently. Should Jose return to form, a 1-2 of Reyes and Crawford would be devastating.
Crawford does not walk a huge amount, strikes out some, and has little HR power, but he hits for a good average, steals a lot of bases, and is good for a nice amount of doubles and triples.
Where does he play? This is the question.
The answer is not simple, but it is not as complex as it may seem. Crawford has played some center, and an outfield of Bay, Crawford, and Pagan/Beltran is potentially excellent defensively. Crawford has excellent range, which is probably the most important factor for a center fielder; one does not have to have Dave Parker’s arm to successfully patrol center field–speed and range are the keys. Should the contract be longer than four years, he can ease back over to left after Bay’s deal expires.
The Mets have been burned by several of their long-term, big money deals, but Crawford does not have a significant injury history, and he will be just 29 on opening day 2011. In the past, he has made comments suggesting that his numbers are very similar to Jose Reyes’, and if he played in NY, Crawford would have a much higher profile. Imagine how motivated both players might be, batting 1-2 on a youthful, revitalized Mets team.
It is easy for the negative folks to shrug this off, saying that the team already has enough outfielders, but even if Bay returns to form, Beltran is far from certain to be healthy and is most definitely gone at the end of 2011 at the latest. Pagan at this point has far from proven that he is an serious producer over a full season. Pagan hitting sixth or seventh would be a far better gamble than counting on him to hit second. Crawford could be outstanding in this role.
While moving Crawford to center is no certain success, nor can we be sure he would welcome it, the team would not be seriously diminished defensively were this to happen. He would be surrounded by outfielders with speed and range, and the team potentially will have an excellent fielding infield. In other words, what we may gain offensively would surely more than compensate for a slight defensive downgrade; if it would even be that. Crawford could electify this offense.
Do the Mets have the money to sign Carl Crawford? If they do, it says here that he might be the very best free agent gamble they could invest in this year. While teams always tout spring training competition, barring major change, the Mets are almost certainly set at C, 1B, SS, 3B, LF, and either CF or RF with Pagan/Beltran-a platoon in RF could keep these guys both healthy and productive, and each could spell Bay once every other week; it is time for the team do what is best for the team. Let’s hope the days of the inmates running the asylum ended with Jerry’s departure. Do what winning NBA and NFL teams often do at draft time–go for the best player available.
Second base might very well be filled by Murphy and/or Tejada. After Pedro and Johan, there’s no way the team will–or should–even consider another long-term crazy deal for a starting pitcher. Sorry Cliff Lee fans. The one place this team could make a very big, very successful, and potentially very cost-effective splash is with Crawford, a consistently excellent performer who might be seriously motivated to leave the baseball backwater of Tampa for the big stage of NY, and to have the chance to be a major hero helping lead the Mets back to respectability. He also would bring sorely needed leadership and pennant race/postseason experience.
If Crawford is game to consider center field and the Mets, and the Mets are game to consider one big contract this offseason, it says here that the two sides should give each other very serious thought. Counting on Bay, Beltran, and Pagan to all be healthy and productive is a hugely doubtful proposition. Should Crawford become a Met, and all of these players are healthy, the team will be in a beautiful position; able to trade Beltran and his expiring contract to a contender or Pagan and his small contract to a low-budget team seeking a bargain.
It might be a win-win situation. Let’s hope the Mets consider it.