Forget for a few minutes the years and dollar amount of the Carl Crawford deal and bask with us here at Fire Brand in the brilliant light that is the 2011 Red Sox.
Things seemed to be winding down on a quiet-ish day at the Winter Meetings. No Cliff Lee deal to announce, no word on Adrian Beltre’s progress to report, nothing of much impact other than Paul Konerko re-upping with the White Sox. Then, literary minutes before I was about to write about something completely different, the Carl Crawford to the Red Sox talk intensified. Not long after, I read that the Sox had indeed landed the lightning fast left fielder. I took a few minutes to let things settle in my mind, then began to try and envision a scenario in which the Sox didn’t win the World Series.
OK, OK, so there are probably a ton of scenarios in which the Sox fail to win the World Series — in the playoffs, as evident by this past season, anything can happen — but looking at this team’s starting lineup and starting rotation, a Sox fan must feel the uttermost optimism right now.
There are still lose ends to be tied up in the bullpen and maybe adding a veteran catcher to pair with Jason Varitek would help, but as it is right now, this is as good a team as the Sox have had in years and perhaps the best team in baseball.
Here at Fire Brand, we’ve spent the past few days analyzing the impact that Adrian Gonzalez will have on this team. Now, add a baseline .300/.350/.450 bat to the top of the order with 50-60 stolen base potential. The team that ranked second in baseball in runs scored last season has a great chance to blow away the competition in that category in 2011.
Crawford, despite his tremendous speed, has never liked leading off or playing center field. Those two factors will be non-factors with the Sox. Pedroia looks to get back into the lead-off spot with Crawford sliding into the two-hole. This move also allows Jacoby Ellsbury to move back to center and forces a platoon situation in right field between J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron, which is probably a good thing. As the everyday left fielder, Crawford, who posted a terrific 18.5 UZR in 2010, should thrive defensively with even less room to cover. As the second place hitter in the lineup, Crawford should easily score 100-plus runs and the sky is almost the limit (as in 120-plus runs scored).
If there is any downside to Crawford, it’s his lack of above average plate discipline. He has averaged a 6.4 percent walk rate over the last three seasons and consistently swings at pitches outside the strike-zone over 30 percent of the time. That may be more of a concern as his speed fades, but for the next several seasons, Sox fans won’t need to worry.
At this point in his career, Crawford is who he is. He has power, but a move to Fenway won’t increase his home run output. He has hit over .300 for the past two seasons and that should continue in 2011 considering his lineup protection. With good stolen base success rates in recent years, Crawford should be given the green light the majority of the time and 50 stolen bases seems like the starting point for 2011 projections. However, we shouldn’t expect Crawford to turn into a .320 hitter or get on base at a .375-plus clip. The good news is that he doesn’t have to do either to be a huge part of this lineup.
The rest of the lineup will fill in accordingly. Adrian Gonzalez still projects as the third place hitter with Youkilis batting fourth and Papi filling in the fifth spot. Going back-to-back with left-handed hitters is not ideal, but the Sox would have to do it one way or the other between Crawford, Gonzo, Youk and Papi batting two, three, four, and five. Any which way the duo of Drew and Cameron works out, either would slide into the sixth spot with the combination of catcher, Ellsbury, Scutaro/Lowrie filling in the seven, eight and nine spots. My initial thought is that Ellsbury would hit ninth to add speed and decent OBP as a second lead-off man. Adding a catcher like Russell Martin or Mike Napoli to hit seventh would only make this lineup that much more dominant.
Of course, everyone needs to stay healthy for this “ideal” lineup to come to fruition. However, should the oft-injured Drew/Cameron combo fail, top outfield prospects like Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick will be fighting for the next call-up at Pawtucket. As it stands, Jed Lowrie will be fighting for at-bats with Marco Scutaro, who slated as the starting shortstop, which is not a bad problem to have. And we can’t forget about Darnell McDonald, who held his own defensively and came up with some big hits for the Sox in 2010.
The acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez and signing of Carl Crawford have done wonders for the depth of the Red Sox lineup. Both are signed to long term deals and while the years of each contract are significant, I’m not ready to look that far just yet, though I should. Not now, not today. There is too much optimism, too much excitement, too much dreaming going on inside my head.
The ingredients for greatness are on paper. Now all they have to do is play the games…and win…like we expect them to.