Commentary

Sox banking on Crawford to pay off

Updated: February 19, 2011, 3:54 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- It sounds so quaint now, Pete Rose's long-ago lament that only home run hitters drive Cadillacs, while singles hitters settle for Fords.

Rose, clearly, wasn't around when a player of the modest talents of Jose Offerman used to show up at Fenway Park in a Rolls-Royce.

But Carl Crawford was familiar with the concept, the point having been made on numerous occasions since he signed with the Boston Red Sox that no one of his skill set had ever been awarded a contract larger than $100 million.

[+] EnlargeCarl Crawford
AP Photo/Dave MartinCarl Crawford might not make his mark with homers, but he's sure to have an impact.

"I never imagined this, that I'd get this kind of contract,'' Crawford said Friday in a meet-and-greet with the media. "I've never hit 20 home runs [in a season]. I've always been looked at as a speed guy, and I know speed guys weren't really looked upon as highly as home run hitters. But if I can add speed and do everything else right at a high level, maybe I had a chance to be just as valuable.

"That's what happened. I knew I wasn't going to hit a lot of home runs in my career, so I just worked on everything else and tried to be the best at every other little thing that I can be. It worked out for me."

Crawford's contract calls for him to be paid $142 million over the next seven years. It is the largest contract by average annual value in Sox history, at least until Adrian Gonzalez signs his extension sometime after Opening Day.

In overall value, it is second in club history to the eight-year, $160 million contract Manny Ramirez signed with the Red Sox in the winter of 2000.

No one hit more home runs at Fenway did than Ramirez over the period he was with the Sox. He hit 136, with David Ortiz next at 100. Ramirez averaged one home run per 14.35 at-bats in the Fens. He also led the team in RBIs (455) and on-base average (.424) at Fenway, and was second in slugging percentage to David Ortiz (.617 for Big Papi, .592 for Manny).

In eight and a half seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, Crawford played in 76 games at Fenway, starting 75 of them. In 320 at-bats in Fenway, Crawford has four home runs. In 282 at-bats in Yankee Stadium (old and new), Crawford has three.

I know speed guys weren't really looked upon as highly as home run hitters. But if I can add speed and do everything else right at a high level, maybe I had a chance to be just as valuable.

-- Red Sox outfielder Carl Crawford

Different skill set, indeed. His career on-base percentage at Fenway is .301, his slugging percentage.406, for which the Red Sox pitching staff deserves some credit, of course, but those numbers are in a different universe than the numbers Ramirez put up.

So while you can't talk about the other Red Sox newcomer, Gonzalez, without hearing how his swing is tailor-made for Fenway Park, no one is making similar claims for Crawford -- although he said he already is planning to adjust his game to his new home address.

"I'll probably try to hit the ball to left more,'' he said.

David Ortiz, he added, already has reinforced that idea.

"He was like, 'If you can hit that Green Monster, try,'' Crawford said. "That's pretty much the plan I had already, but to hear him say it made me more comfortable.''

That should mean more doubles, and if Crawford has his way, it won't mean a reduction in triples, either.

"If I hit a ball high in the air,'' he said, "I'm going to take off running so fast that if the guy plays around just a little bit, I'm still going to try to go for three. You know I like to get triples.''

But even if he takes aim on the Monster, the uptick in home runs is likely to be modest. In 889 at-bats in his career in which the left-handed-hitting Crawford hit to the opposite field, only seven balls left the yard.

There are other ways to win ball games, of course, and in a changing environment, speed and defense -- traditional baseball values -- may be in ascendancy again. Crawford won his first Gold Glove last season, and while the limited real estate of Fenway's left field make Crawford's great range less of an advantage than in other ballparks, it's hard to argue with manager Terry Francona's contention that "not many fly balls are going to find grass.''

"I love defense,'' Crawford said. "And I take a lot of pride in playing defense.''

The stat known as WAR (Winning Above Replacement) helps measure the overall impact a player has on his team's winning. Last season, Crawford had a career-best WAR of 6.9, tied for sixth in the major leagues with teammate Evan Longoria, just behind Adrian Beltre (7.1). Among big league outfielders, only Josh Hamilton, the American League MVP, had a higher WAR (8.0).

The Red Sox made the long-term investment in Crawford believing his greatest asset, his legs, will maintain their value over the life of the contract. They cited studies that showed players with fast-twitch muscles age better than their more muscle-bound counterparts.

Even Crawford had to laugh, though, when someone asked him if he thought his stolen-base numbers might drop because he no longer can run against the Sox, against whom he stole 62 bases in 66 attempts, including his last 35 in a row. The last time he was caught, on Sept. 21, 2005, Tim Wakefield picked him off. The last Sox catcher to gun him down was Jason Varitek, back on May 20, 2004.

Crawford said he had a chance to talk to Varitek over the winter.

"When I went up to Boston, we kind of gave each other a hug, buried the hatchet a little bit,'' Crawford said. "I let him know, 'I'm on your side now, so you won't have to worry about that anymore.'"

That's money in the bank. John Henry's money. Carl Crawford's bank.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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