How to Fix the Astros Offense: Carl Crawford, Anyone?

I wanted to expand on a question I asked in my Carlos Lee HOF column. Houston's recent offensive struggles have certainly made it a pertinent question. Does it make sense for the Astros to let Lance Berkman walk and replace him with Carl Crawford

Let's first discuss Crawford as a hitter. He is now in his Age 29 season and is at the end of a six year contract. If the Astros traded for him, they'd have to either extend his contract or risk losing him on the free agent market. In the past five seasons, Crawford has only had a wOBA under .350 once (2008) and has only been under 4.5 WAR twice. In the first instance (2007), Crawford's WAR dropped because his UZR fell to -1.2 after consistently being above 15 in every season before or since.

In 2008, his WAR was adversely affected by his hitting. Crawford had his lowest ISO of his career in 2008 at .126. He hits for a good average, walks in six or seven percent of his plate appearances and will hit between 10-15 home runs each season. Crawford is also an excellent baserunner, stealing at least 50 bases in five of the last seven seasons. His career success rate is 81.79 percent. That's very good and makes him a real asset on the base paths. 

Defensively, Crawford doesn't have a great arm, which is why he landed in left field. FanGraphs has his am value at -2.5 for his career. What sets Crawford apart from other left fielders is his tremendous range. It gives him the versatility to play some center field in a pinch and helps cut down on the number of balls that fall for doubles in the gap. In 2009, Crawford made an astounding 109 Out of Zone plays. Compare that to Carlos Lee's 51 in 2009, which was the highest total in his career. 

How would he rank in the Astros lineup? His wOBA becomes the second-highest on the team, according to last season's numbers. HIs WAR total from 2009 also would rank at the top of the current roster. His ISO of .150 puts him fifth on the team, in the spot held formerly by Miguel Tejada. He doesn't have the raw power to replace a Lance Berkman, but it's unclear whether the Big Puma can ever be the same player he was. Crawford instantly would make the Astros a better lineup and could easily bat in the third spot of the order.

He and Michael Bourn played on the same Little League team, which is a great recruiting tool to get Crawford to sign long-term. Bourn, Pence and Crawford would instantly give the Astros the best defensive outfield in the National League and would surpass the Mariners combo of Franklin Gutierrez, Ichiro and whoever they throw out in left field. Balls just wouldn't fall to the ground in MMP's outfield, even with that wide expanse in right center. Think about it. With someone as fast as Crawford in left, Bourn could shade towards Pence and cut off all those doubles against the bullpen.

At the same time, there are some drawbacks. The Astros would be trading for a player on the decline. While Crawford is still young at 29, Houston would have to give him a long-term contract, which would run into his mid-30's. Who knows if his speed (which makes his game) will hold up that long, thus affecting his value greatly. His addition could bump Carlos Lee to first base, but it also blocks talented young outfielders in T.J. Steele and J.D. Martinez. Plus, unless Hunter Pence or Chris Johnson have a breakout year in 2010, the Astros would be lacking any real pop. They'd have to rely on doubles, steals and the ground game to 'manufacture' runs. Just like the good ole' days in the Dome.

Crawford also comes with a hefty price tag. Looking at his trade value, he'd probably net around 15 million in assets. That means the Astros would have to give up a top 100 pitcher (Jordan Lyles) or two grade B players to get him. The problem with that is the Rays don't have much use for another talented young pitcher, especially if he's as close to the majors as Lyles is. I think the two teams could work out a deal, but it wouldn't be the best offer the Rays could get for Crawford. A three-person trade of Tanner Bushue, T.J. Steele and Juri Perez works on paper, but it's not a ton of value. Plus, to get to the required value, you have to include another outfielder. I'm not sure the Rays need someone like Steele in their system. At least Bushue is young enough to be ready right about the time James Shields, David Price and Jeff Niemann start geting expensive.

So, let's leave it to you, dear readers. Does Carl Crawford help this offense enough to make a deal? Do the Astros even need him once Lance Berkman comes back? Could the Astros just wait until the offseason to sign him instead of giving up so many prospects? 

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