Some free agent signings are a perfect fit, regardless of how much a team pays. Some free agent signings are doomed for reasons nobody sees coming down the turnpike. The match between Carl Crawford and the Boston Red Sox is shaping up as the latter.
Eyebrows were raised so high they touched hairlines in 2011 when the Red Sox signed the former Tampa Bay outfielder for seven years and $142 million. But the furor died down because the Red Sox are known as swaggering spenders and people camped at Fenway Park get over imperfect investments as long as the team makes the playoffs.
Despite hauling his millions to the bank, Crawford did not hold up his end of the bargain last season. He started the year in a coma and stayed there longer than Rip Van Winkle. That was not acceptable. Finally, Crawford untangled his swing and got rolling at the high point of the season as the Red Sox built the sure-thing playoff record they squandered in September.
Crawford brought his below-the-Mendoza-line batting average up to .255, which was achievement given the negative numbers he started with, hit 11 home runs, drove in 55 runs, and stole 18 bases. For a couple of months, Crawford did play like the player of old. He got on a sustained hot streak and tantalized teammates and fans.
It was too little, too late. The team was not happy. Crawford was not happy. Fans were restless. At the end of the year other startling events overtook Crawford’s performance. It was a disappointing year for Crawford, but when the Red Sox blew a playoff spot on the last day of the season Crawford’s situation receded.
Theo Epstein split for the Cubs. Terry Francona split for a rest. Jonathan Papelbon split for Philadelphia. Lot of deep breaths in Boston, a lot of edginess, and a lot of effort focused on 2012. Crawford was determined to rehabilitate his image and become the major contributor he promised to be when he came over from Tampa Bay.
I am one of those people who thought a solid comeback was in the cards and that Crawford would adjust and play the way he can at his best. Now, who knows? The latest Red Sox nightmare came true when Crawford suffered an injury to his left wrist. Outside of arm wrestlers, a wrist injury can most impact a baseball player, especially his swing at the plate.
The Red Sox have no idea how long it will take for Crawford to heal. The Red Sox can’t tell how long it will take between him first practicing and being ready to start in left field and then, (here we go again), neither Crawford nor the Red Sox can even return to being Carl Crawford at his best. General manager Ben Cherington predicted that Crawford would be back starting for the majority of the year, but hey, missing 20, 30, 40 games can be significant.
The guy is collecting superstar money and the Red Sox need Crawford to produce like an All-Star. Neither Boston nor Crawford can afford another mediocre season. Crawford’s reputation will be ruined and the Red Sox’s chances of capturing the American League East and reaching the playoffs will be shot.
Boston cannot make the playoffs without a healthy, base-stealing, reliable hitting Carl Crawford. So when Cherington sends a get-well card his sentiments are sincere.