Since his arrival in Boston last season, Carl Crawford has not remotely resembled the perennial All-Star outfielder, run producer and base stealer that he was in Tampa Bay. Injuries are partly to blame. Trouble adjusting to the pressure cooker that involves playing for the high profile Red Sox is another.
Tension with Terry Francona last year and now Bobby Valentine this season can also be attributed to Crawford likely wishing he wouldn’t have signed a seven-year, $142 million deal with Boston after the 2010 season.
Whether or not Crawford regrets joining the Red Sox – and whether or not the Red Sox ownership group wishes they would have let the now 30-year-old left fielder sign with the Angels – is irrelevant right now.
Crawford is on the Red Sox active roster, and unless Boston finds another team willing to take on the remaining five-plus years of the exorbitant contract, he will be wearing a Red Sox uniform – at least through the end of the 2012 season.
Last year, his first on Boston, Crawford hit .255 with 11 home runs and 56 RBI, and he posted career lows with a .289 on-base percentage and 18 stolen bases. He struggled in left field, and capped off his forgettable season when he could not catch the sinking liner off Robert Andino‘s bat in the 162nd game that led to a Baltimore win, a Boston loss and Tampa Bay claiming the wild card spot when Evan Longoria belted a walk-off home run against the Yankees moments later.
Crawford did not respond to Francona moving him to different spots in the lineup. Crawford prefers batting second, but often he found himself in the No. 7 spot last year.
Fast forward to present day. Since returning from the disabled list, where he was recovering from off-season wrist surgery and a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow, Crawford is 7-for-29 (.241).
He is in the midst of 0-for-10 and 2-for-18 skids. On Tuesday, Valentine moved Crawford from the No. 2 slot to No. 7 in the order. Then, in the seventh inning, Crawford was lifted in favor of Daniel Nava – for defensive purposes.
This is the same Crawford who with Tampa Bay was regarded as one of the best defensive left fielders in the majors. This is the same Crawford who is receiving $19.5 million from the Red Sox this season. And he was lifted for defensive purposes?
Valentine to WEEI on Wednesday afternoon that he inserted Nava so that Crawford did not have to make a throw in a 1-1 game that would stress his injured elbow. Nava scored what would be the game-winning run when he worked a walk off Rangers closer Joe Nathan in the top of the ninth and scored on Mike Aviles‘ RBI single with two outs.
That Crawford is playing left field instead of filling the DH role while David Ortiz is on the disabled list is puzzling, especially since he has a balky left elbow.
Crawford Should Have Surgery Now
According to Crawford, doctors have told him that he will need Tommy John surgery to repair the UCL, and it is uncertain how long he can play with the injury. The Red Sox hope that Crawford can contribute during the second half and then, if needed, have the procedure when the season ends.
Position players typically require a six-month rehabilitation period for Tommy John surgery compared to a full year for pitchers. The Red Sox are not convinced that Crawford will need surgery.
As the Red Sox prepare for the three-game series finale at Texas on Wednesday night, Crawford is in the No. 7 hole once again, and playing left field.
At 49-49, and plagued with inconsistent starting pitching, it is unlikely that the Red Sox have what it takes to win a post-season series, even if they claim the final wild card spot and win the wild card one-game playoff.
With this in mind, it makes sense for Crawford to undergo Tommy John surgery right now so he can be fully recovered when opening day arrives next spring. The Red Sox can use Nava in left, and even 24-year-old Ryan Kalish, who can play all three outfield spots and appears to have a bright major league future.
As long as Crawford continues to struggle at the plate – and as long as Valentine pencils the outfielder’s name at the bottom of the order and remove him for late-inning defensive purposes – tension between player and manager will only grow worse. This is another reason why the Red Sox should do themselves and Crawford a favor and allow him to have Tommy John surgery soon so he can be productive in 2013.