With Crawford, Sox lineup lacks for nothing

December 9, 2010, 6:17 am
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By Art Martone
CSNNE.com

Let Joe Girardi -- yes, that Joe Girardi, the manager of the Yankees -- describe Carl Crawford's impact.

"He's a difference maker for any club he goes to," Girardi said Wednesday before he knew Crawford was headed to the Red Sox. "He changes the complexion of the game. When he's up, when he's on the bases, he's a great player.

"We've had a chance to see him a lot over the last six or seven years. And he's a pain. That is the type of player he is. You know that any single can be a triple. It's easy for him to score runs."

Now add Crawford to a team that a) was second in the league in runs scored in 2010 despite injuries that took out Jacoby Ellsbury for virtually the entire season, Dustin Pedroia for half the season and Kevin Youkilis for a third of the season (not to mention Victor Martinez for a month) and b) already added Adrian Gonzalez, one of the best hitters in baseball, to the mix.

Any wonder, then, that Alex Speier of WEEI.com got this comment from a rival executive?

"Holy [expletive]," he said. "Think about that lineup."

Okay, we will. Here's how it might shake down in 2010:

Jacoby Ellsbury cf
Dustin Pedroia 2b
Carl Crawford lf
Adrian Gonzalez 1b
Kevin Youkilis 3b
David Ortiz dh
J.D. Drew rf
Jarrod Saltalamacchia c
Marco Scutaro ss

That's one permutation. Here's another:

Dustin Pedroia 2b
Carl Crawford lf
Adrian Gonzalez 1b
Kevin Youkilis 3b
David Ortiz dh
J.D. Drew rf
Jarrod Saltalamacchia c
Marco Scutaro ss
Jacoby Ellsbury cf

The Sox tilt a little left-handed -- though general manager Theo Epstein says that, because of the predominance of right-handed pitching, it's better to have too many lefty hitters than too many righties -- and Terry Francona won't be able to go right-left-right-left, etc., the way he likes. But that's Webster's definition of nit-picking. A lineup with this many quality hitters isn't going to shut itself down at the sight of Bruce Chen or Ryan Rowland-Smith, or quiver in fear at a LOOGY like Boone Logan or Phil Coke.

Gonzalez first, and then Crawford, tipped the scales.

"I think he's a game-changer," Terry Francona said of Crawford on WEEI Radio last month.

He's a rare combination of speed (409 stolen bases in his career, five seasons of 50 or more steals) and power (424 extra-base hits, including 105 triples), and that's not even considering his Gold Glove-caliber defense. While certain of his career numbers give you pause -- specifically his .337 on-base percentage and .444 slugging percentage -- remember that the Rays brought him to the major leagues when he was only 20 years old and his stats were skewed by his early learning curve.

As he's reached his physical prime in the last two years, his numbers have soared. His 2009-10 stats:

BATTING AVERAGE: .306
ON-BASE PERCENTAGE: .360
SLUGGING PERCENTAGE: .473

He set career highs in home runs (19) and RBI (90) hitting out of the No. 2 hole for the Rays last year, and he's hit over .300 in four of his last five seasons. (The only year he missed was 2008, when leg injuries limited him to 108 games.) Even his walk totals, while still substandard, have climbed; he's averaged nearly 50 walks a season the last two years, after not getting out of the 30s for the first seven seasons of his career.

Crawford was a No. 2 hitter in Tampa Bay, but reportedly let it be known he wanted to be more of a table-clearer than a table-setter going forward. The Sox feel he has the potential to be a middle-of-the-order bat . . . and while they may not need, or want, him to steal 50 bases a year, his speed will be a factor that opposing defenses will always have to account for. The Sox know all about that; he's stolen 62 bases against them, the most he has against any opponent.

David Pinto of Baseball Musings lays out the negatives of the Crawford signing, but most of his concerns are about the length of the deal. For 2011 and the immediate future, it's hard to see a downside.

For what the Red Sox now have is a lineup with speed (Crawford, Ellsbury), power (Gonzalez, David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis), on-base capability (Pedroia, Drew) and -- save for the unknown quality of Saltalamacchia -- almost no weaknesses. Not to mention that, defensively, they're, at worst, average everywhere (again, save for the Saltalamacchia mystery) and above-average in a lot of places (Gonzalez, Pedroia, Crawford, Drew).

Which is why Joe Girardi is correct is calling Carl Crawford a difference-maker.

And "
Holy [expletive]" is going to be a pretty common phrase heard around baseball today.

Art Martone can be reached at amartone@comcastsportsnet.com.

Tags: red sox, Deal, contract, Carl Crawford, outfielder
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