I've been following the offseason acquisitions like all of you: I get Adrian Gonzalez, hits to all fields, hits lefties well, moves Youkilis back to 3rd to fill the Beltre hole. Not to mention that the Red Sox management have been lusting for Adrian Gonzalez for years.
What I don't get is Carl Crawford. He's a left fielder - which is nice. But at Fenway, all that speed and talent would seem to be wasted? What is he going to do with all that speed? Catch the bounces off of the wall?
I suppose he's a good candidate to move to CF if Ellsbury is still hurt or to RF when JD Drew's contract expires. I suppose that makes sense. I suppose having all that speed will make pitchers nervous and having two speedsters gives the Red Sox a few more options. But I'll be honest - I don't quite get the Crawford signing. It's nice to be sure but did Crawford fill a need the Sox had? Like say, at SS or middle relief? And besides, as the contract ages, all that speed may decrease and become less valuable.
I get that it makes the Red Sox look great and it's an exciting team - far more than last offseason. But did the Sox really, really need to get Crawford?
You are actually right where I was about a week ago. It's not that Crawford's speed is wasted in Fenway, it's just that it is marginally less useful defensively, or on the basepaths (take slightly fewer chances with a better lineup in a smaller ballpark). According to the Fielding Bible, Crawford is apparently above average going back on balls, or going laterally to catch fly balls, but is mind-blowingly awesome at catching balls in front of him. If you consider how shallow a guy with his speed could play in Fenway, one begins to wonder if any hits will ever fall in to LF with Crawford out there. Plus, one point Crawford made himself is that he can cover much of the left-center gap that would otherwise be Ellsbury's problem in CF, allowing Ellsbury to shift a little more towards RF to cover the massive alley and cut balls off before they get to the triangle, as well as helping out Drew.
The need he fills is for a corner OF. The need was never for 2011, but for 2012 any beyond. Cameron and Drew are both gone after this season, so with Ellsbury presumably moving to CF, that leaves both corners to fill. The hope/assumption is that Ryan Kalish is the heir apparent in RF. The problem is that there are no good FA options at corner OF in the 2011-2012 offseason, so the time to strike was now, with a premium contract for a premium player in his prime. The hope is that, as indicated by his offensive breakout in 2010, Crawford is transitioning from a largely speed-based offensive player with some doubles and triples to a guy who is truly a 4-tool player (he'll never have an arm, he's not Damon/Ellsbury-level bad, though) with a good eye (check out his OBP the past two seasons, he's becoming a different offensive player), and impressive power. His hit chart for 2010 indicates that, in spite of moving to a ballpark with a much larger RF, his HRs at Tropicana Field would be gone anywhere, even at Fenway. That's indicative of a guy who can really smack the ball when he gets a hold of it. I think the team is betting on that power growing into Crawford's age 29-35 seasons.
I'm on the record here as being not quite thrilled with the contract, but this isn't just a "looks good" player, this is a really good player, who has awesome/HOF player upside. He is also apparently quite the workout warrior and intense preparation guy, a la Pedroia or Youkilis. Now the main concerns become the tail end of the deal (20+M for his age 34 and 35 seasons? Well, it all depends on whether or not he develops his eye/power further), and Ellsbury's defense in CF (there's a reason the Sox signed Cameron last offseason). In the meantime, the pitching staff gets a consolation prize to make up for the reduced IF defense - the OF defense, if Ellsbury improves his reads in CF, has the possibility of being mind-blowingly awesome.