Now that the hot stove season has officially opened and the free agent period is upon us let's talk about Carl Crawford. OremLK gave his reasoning for why the Astros should stay out of the free agent market. I however have decided to forgo my patient side and instead intend to indulge my impulsive side. The consensus seems to be that the Astros should avoid signing the big free agents, and allow the rebuilding process to take it's course. But why should we care about the Astros spending, and why shouldn't the Astros make a good signing now that will pay off in the years to come.
Signing him would certainly generate quite a bit of excitement but it does come with a cost: he will require a sizable contract even if he is willing to take a hometown discount, he'll be 29 next season a 6 year deal means he'll be 35 at the end of the contract, he's never hit 20 homeruns in a season (no really go look it up) and has a .781 On-base Plus Slugging (OPS) (107 OPS+ if you prefer), Brett Wallace would almost certainly end up starting the season in Oklahoma City with Carlos Lee moving to first base.
In the past Drayton McLane has chased that elusive championship at the expense of the farm system; it's time he put it on the tab. Haven't Astro fans suffered enough. Fly balls falling in left field, Preston Wilson whiffing, Woody Williams and Jason Jennings ineffective on the mound. I'm a loyal fan I buy the merchandise, I dress my daughter up to look like a boy (for some reason the MLB online shop doesn't sell baby girl outfits), I even have a game room dedicated to Astro glory. We as Astro fans have seen enough bad baseball these last several years, It's time for reparations.
A high payroll will not guarantee a championship, but if spent correctly it can mean a trip to the postseason on a regular basis. The Yankees have only one Championship in the last decade, but they've only missed the postseason once since 1995. And the Astros don't even need an astronomical payroll to win the NL Central.
Signing Crawford does mean a long term deal, unlike the Carlos Lee deal this shouldn't be an issue. In contrast the 2007 deal given to Lee is the exact reason you sign Crawford, he's absolutely everything Lee isn't. Crawford is two years younger than Lee was at the time of his deal, and I don't see left field being an issue for Crawford as he ages. This past season Crawford had a 18.5 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), Lee -17.8 UZR. Moving Lee to first and signing Crawford means a 20-30 positive UZR swing, which is absolutely mind blowing. It would mean the best defensive outfield in the majors.
Chicks dig the long ball, but speed is what makes their heart race. Hitting the long ball is not Crawford's game, and as we've discussed with Bourn simply looking at his OPS is missing the point. Simply because of his speed and the ability to steal bases, a single becomes a double and a double becomes a triple. But there is one more point to be made as Crawford heads into his prime years.
The past two years his stats across the board have been trending upwards. He posted career highs in both Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) and slugging percentage (SLG). It's conceivable, next year at least, he could join Hunter Pence and Lee in the 20 homer club. Slotting Crawford in the three hole means you can move Pence to the fourth or fifth spot depending on Lee's production. Allowing Brad Mills to move Chris Johnson down in the order where he may be better suited.
Signing Crawford would push Wallace Triple A but when given the choice between Wallace and Crawford, I'm taking Crawford. First base is one of the easiest positions to fill. Look no further than Carlos Lee who never spent a significant amount of time but seemed to adapt well to the position. As much as I hate to admit it Wallace is no guarantee, and sending him to Triple A would not be the worst thing in the world. He can always rack in Oklahoma City and force the Astros hand if Lee continues to struggle offensively.
With a Carl Crawford signing you're creating excitement, improving the defense, and improving the offense. What's not to like. The only real reason to not sign him is the payroll. But why should Ed Wade be punished for the Purpura era spending? A Carl Crawford signing is everything a Carlos Lee signing signing isn't. Aside from the Lee contract the Astros have not had many long bad contracts. That probably says more about the owners spending habits, but both Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt in my opinion were pretty good long term contracts.
The front office and especially Drayton McLane should of learned from the Carlos Lee experience. Unfortunately because of it McLane may of become gun shy and is more willing than ever to return to his previous spending ways.