Crawford's playing like an MVP, but is this his last hurrah in Tampa?
The Rays have a $10M option on Crawford for 2010, which would be a bargain
But for the smaller-market Rays, that may be too steep a price
The Rays have speed demon Desmond Jennings ready and waiting in Triple-A
He's a multi-talented left-handed hitter in his prime, an MVP candidate having the best year of his dynamic career. He's a vital young veteran surrounded by kids, a year and change away from free agency. His lower-revenue team sorely needs him, but the economic realities of the game are about to make a trade a real possibility, perhaps as soon as this offseason.
A closer look at Crawford's contributions points to a player who deserves far more credit than he's received to date. The 28-year-old Texan has rolled up an impressive .316/.372/.466 line for the season. He's also perennially one of the best defenders at his position in the big leagues. His Ultimate Zone Rating of 8.2 per 150 games ranks third among left fielders this season. That's after saving 25.6 more runs per 150 games than the average left fielder last season, by far the best mark in baseball.
What truly sets Crawford apart, though, is his prolific -- and highly efficient -- basestealing. He's swiped 52 bases in 61 tries this season, good for a gaudy 85.2 percent success rate. In his first seven full big league seasons, Crawford has topped 50 steals five times and 40 steals six times. His 82.9 percent career success rate ranks him just below some all-time speed demons, including Tim Raines. Crawford is the perfect weapon for the Tampa Bay Rays, a team that's aggressive on the base paths but also run by a statistically inclined brain trust that treasures every out like it's the Hope Diamond.
Add up all of his talents and you have a player who deserves consideration for American League MVP honors this season. Crawford ranks sixth among AL position players with 4.1 Wins Above Replacement (WAR) level so far this season, according to statistical analysis Web site FanGraphs.com. In other words, putting Crawford on the field instead of the average waiver-wire player or Triple-A lifer has earned the team just over four wins so far this year, on pace for six wins for the entire 2009 campaign. He faces some stiff competition in that department, including marquee names like Mauer and Derek Jeter, as well as no fewer than three teammates in the top 13 in WAR: Evan Longoria and the hugely surprising double-play combination of Ben Zobrist and Jason Bartlett.
As is their wont, the Rays signed Crawford to a four-year deal in 2005, buying out his arbitration years to ensure cost certainty. (The team signed Longoria to a similar contract just six days into his major league career, a deal that now looks like the biggest bargain and shrewdest contract in the majors from a team perspective; top starter James Shields is also signed at a bargain-basement rate.) As is also their wont, Tampa Bay management tacked on two team option years at the end of Crawford's contract. The first of those options kicked in this season, at $8.5 million. The second is in 2010, when Crawford will make $10 million plus a few incentives if the Rays pick it up.
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