The Last Devil Ray
Poor Carl Crawford. One of the lone “Devil Rays Guys” (the motley crew of young players trotted out year after year by the horrible Tampa Bay teams of yore – you know, Seth McClung, Casey Fossum, Mark Hendrickson, Toby Hall, Travis Lee, etc.) to remain with the organization into the upcoming Pax Tampa, Crawford has been sidelined with the first major injury of his career and will now likely miss the rest of the Rays’ first pennant race.
Crawford has long been a favorite of the baseball establishment, garnering perennial praise as a potential MVP candidate at the beginning of each season from everyone from ESPN to Baseball Prospectus. His high profile derives from his toolsiness – athleticism, superior outfield defense and extra-base-hit power are the keys to a scout’s wet dream – as well his placement as a glimmer of hope on the aforementioned moribund Devil Rays teams of the past half-decade. Unlike fellow Tampa Bay prospects Delmon Young, Elijah Dukes, Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton, Crawford never threw a bat at an umpire, faced multiple rape and assault accusations, went on a four-year heroin bender, or developed a reputation as a drunk-driving loafer. He has also made good on his projectability, coming to the plate more than 4,000 times before his 27th birthday, stealing 302 bases at an 82% success rate and taking extra bases on 311 of his 1,111 career hits.
However, while Crawford posses a wide variety of baseball skills, he has yet to excel at any one facet of the game, leaving him with a career OPS+ of 102. With his baserunning and defense, he is clearly an above-average player, but at the same time, he doesn’t walk enough to make him an asset in the leadoff spot, where the American League has collectively posted a .344 on-base percentage since 2002, to Crawford’s .330. He also doesn’t hit for enough power, rocking a slugging percentage just around the league average over the course of his career.
Of course, ability is only half of the equation when it comes to evaluating professional athletes, and it is through the dark side of sports – the finances – that Crawford derives much of his value, as he had cost the Rays a grand total of $7,740,000 during his first seven seasons in the league. As he will remain under team control through 2011 at a total cost of about $31,000,000, even continuing to produce at his current levels will make Crawford among the more valuable commodities in the league.
With Upton currently ensconced in center field for the next several years, 21-year-old phenom Desmond Jennings waiting in the wings and any number of Justin Ruggiano (.905 minor league OPS), Chris Nowak (.844) and Eric Hinskes (123 OPS+ in MLB this season) hanging around the organizational ranks, the Rays should seriously consider moving Crawford this offseason. His perceived value may outweigh his actual value by a higher margin than any other player in the majors. If the option is available, the Rays should sell high on the C.C. with punctuation.