By Michael Felger
Carl Crawford's problem is simple, and it has nothing to do with this weekend and it's not even his fault.
He's not a 20 million player.
As we all know from J.D. Drew's tenure in Boston, players at that pay grade are defined by their salary. Be honest. What's the first thing you think of when you think of the Sox right fielder? For some, it's that big postseason home run in 2007. But for most, it's his contract.
14 million a year for that? What's the fascination with J.D. Drew?
Thankfully for the Red Sox, Drew has either been oblivious to that noose around his neck, or he just doesn't care. Whatever it is, it hasn't affected his play on the field. It's never gotten to him as far as we can tell.
Sox fans can only hope Crawford has similarly strong earplugs. On Sunday, the eighth-highest-paid player in baseball was dropped to seventh in the lineup, where he played well, going 2-for-4 with the Sox' only RBI. In the three-game series with the Rangers, he went 2-for-11 with five strikeouts.
But, again, take this weekend out of it.
There are 11 players who have signed contracts worth an average annual value of 20 million or more in the history of baseball. The list includes Hall of Famers, would-be Hall of Famers, Cy Young winners, MVPs . . . and Crawford. The list also has the strong whiff of steroids, but leave that out for now. Let's assess this list strictly on the numbers:
1. Roger Clemens (28 million, 2007; 22 million, 2006)
One of the greatest pitchers in the history of the game. Seven Cy Young awards, the most ever.
2. Alex Rodriguez (27.5 million, 2008-17; 25.2 million, 2001-10).
One of the greatest right-handed hitters in baseball history. On pace to become MLB's all-time home run champ.
3. Ryan Howard (25 million, 2012-16)
Howard's HRRBI totals from 2006-09: 58149, 47136, 48146, 45141.
4. Cliff Lee (24 million, 2011-15).
Arguably the best left-handed pitcher in baseball. Has taken two teams to the World Series. Career postseason mark of 7-2 with a 2.13 ERA.
5. Joe Mauer (23 million, 2011-18).
Only catcher in major-league history to win three batting titles. League MVP in 2009.
6. CC Sabathia (23 million, 2008-13)
Four-time All-Star, 2007 Cy Young winner. Most consistent and durable left-handed pitcher in the game over the past decade.
7. Johan Santana (22.9 million, 2008-13)
Four-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young winner.
8. Manny Ramirez (22.5 million, 2009-10; 20 million, 2001-08).
Twelve-time All-Star. 555 career home runs. Best right-handed hitter in baseball for a decade (1996-2006).
9. Mark Teixeira (22.5 million, 2009-16)
Averaged 37 homers and 121 RBI over his first nine years in the majors.
10. Roy Halladay (20 million, 2011-13)
Arguably the best right-handed pitcher in baseball over the past decade. Seven-time All-Star, two-time Cy Young winner.
11. Crawford (20.3 million, 2011-2017)
Only 20 million hitter without a 20-homer season. Along with Mauer, who had 96 two years ago, only one on the list without a 100-RBI season (Crawford's career high is 90). Career OPS of .780. The next-lowest player on the list, Mauer at .887, beats him by over 100 points. The others? ARod .959, Howard .944, Ramirez .997, Teixeira .914.
Simply put, there has never been a 20 million player like Crawford.
Put another way, he doesn't belong on the list.
Red Sox president Larry Lucchino seemed to acknowledge as much when we had him on the radio the other day. I asked him what, in their eyes, made Crawford a 20 million player. His answer could be summed up thusly:
The debate fans had in spring training -- which of the Sox' big acquisitions will have a harder time acclimating to Boston, Crawford or Adrian Gonzalez? -- seems pretty silly now.
Gonzalez shouldn't have a problem because he's so damn good. It has nothing to do with attitude, experience in the A.L. East or anything like that. It has everything to do with ability. Gonzalez is a stud. A special hitter. He'll be fine.
He's soon to join that 20 million club, too. And something tells me we won't be mentioning his contract nearly as much as Crawford's. If Gonzalez isn't one of the best hitters in the American League over the next five years, I'll be surprised.
Gonzalez as a big expenditure made sense to the Red Sox from both a business standpoint and a baseball standpoint. They had no corner power in their system and Gonzalez fit their profile perfectly in terms of age, skill set and approach.
Crawford is different. The Sox didn't need another left-handed bat. They don't value steals. They don't need defense in left field at Fenway. Crawford's on-base numbers aren't typically what they covet.
Let's face it. Crawford is here because the Sox tanked in the Nielsen ratings last year and have been steadily losing market share since their last title in 2007, and they paid him 20 million because he probably would have gone to the Angels if they hadn't. The Sox needed to get the buzz back, and the exciting Crawford should entertain the folks at park and on the tube with his speed and all-around ability. He's perfect for Tom Werner's TV show, even if he isn't ideal for Terry Francona's lineup or Theo Epstein's payroll.
Don't take this the wrong way. No one is saying Crawford sucks. He's a very good ballplayer, a four-time All-Star who will help the Red Sox win a lot of games over the balance of his contract. We should all be thrilled the Sox overspent to beat out the Yankees and improve the team. It's what they should do every year.
Don't be fooled by Crawford's start. He'll be a big factor here.
Just don't be fooled by his contract, either. He's not that kind of player. And remember that it's not his fault.
He just took what the Red Sox gave him.
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