There’s a lot to like about Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, two of the most desired names currently dangling on the free-agent market. If you are a general manager like Theo Epstein, which all-star outfielder do you break the bank for?
It’s a question Davey Lopes is glad he doesn’t have to answer. Reached earlier this week, Lopes, the East Providence native with 38 years of baseball experience at his fingertips, was asked to debate and dissect the merits of Werth and Crawford.
What further supports the opinions Lopes provided is that he saw Werth on a daily basis as the Phillies’ first base coach over the past four seasons. While the same cannot be said of Crawford, Lopes can appreciate a stolen base artist when he’s queried about one (Lopes ranks 25th all-time with 557 thefts while Crawford has amassed 409).
“You can’t go wrong with either one. It’s certainly a tough choice,” said Lopes with a hearty chuckle. “You’re not going to lose out on either one.”
Diplomatic route aside, Lopes didn’t hold back when the topic shifted to the multi-year megabucks contracts expected to be thrown at the feet of Crawford and Werth.
“When you get those kinds of players who expect to make that kind of money on the open market … if you’re going to be an impact player than you have to impact your ball team,” said Lopes, who earlier this month left Philadelphia after contract negotiations reportedly hit a snag. “You can’t be a guy who is just OK and fits in with a good lineup. When you start making over 100 million dollars, and this is my opinion, you best be able to impact the game. Otherwise that 100 million is overspent.
“I would look at it this way as a free agent,” he continued. “Can this guy impact a ballgame consistently day-in and day-out during the course of a season? You’re going to have your low moments, but will he be there as an impact player?
“There are guys who are good, but they’re not impact players. They’re just a little piece of the puzzle,” said Lopes, continuing to drive his point across. “Then there are other guys who are pretty much the puzzle.”
With all the attention being paid to Crawford and Werth, it seems fair to label them “impact players.” Both will instantaneously become the cornerstone of their respective remains-to-be-determined outfields the moment signing day arrives. Both bring plenty of intangibles to the table and the kind of star power that translates into big bucks.
Crawford is a spectacular baserunner and one the best defensive left fielders in baseball. He has hit .300 five times, hit 10 triples five times and stolen 50 bases five times. He has scored 100 runs three times and set a career high in homers (19) and RBI (90) this past season. Crawford is also battle-tested, having played in the ultra-competitive American League East the last nine years with Tampa Bay.
“[Earlier in Crawford’s career] he was a leadoff hitter. Not that that shouldn’t have stopped him from hitting home runs, but as far as 90 RBI, most leadoff hitters don’t have that many,” Lopes said. “The fact that he has added power makes him even more dangerous, but it’s also a wait-and-see game. Has he just started to find his power and is going to get better and produce even more power? Or is he a guy who hits 15, 20 home runs a year? That’s not too shabby with his speed and his ability to play defense. That (slugging homers) is a great asset no matter how you look at it.”
Like a fine wine, Werth keeps on getting better with age. In five short years he’s undergone a complete career makeover, morphing from a perceived platoon outfielder with high upside into a five-tool level star. He may turn 32 next May, but according to the 2011 Bill James Handbook, Werth remains a favorite to produce at a high level – 28 home runs, 98 RBI, 84 walks, .493 slugging percentage, .868 OPS.
“Jason has big-time power and has just blossomed into an all-around player. He can hit the ball as high and deep as anyone in the game,” said Lopes. “I think that anyone who has watched Jason over the years knew he had great athleticism. It just a matter of whether he was going to develop into the type of player everyone expects him to be. The injuries and the lack of playing time, that’s all behind him now. What he has to be concerned about is being a productive player for whomever he plays for in the next few years. He’ll be a great asset.”
Would Werth fit with the Boston Red Sox, the team perceived by many as the frontrunner to sign him? Lopes seems to believe so. “He would be a nice piece of the puzzle if the Red Sox choose him.”
As elite free agents Crawford and Werth are going to hit the mother lode. Don’t be surprised once the first player of this star studded two-prong group is signed to see the remaining player turn around and use the deal as a launching point to land something comparable. Since mega agent Scott Boras represents Werth, teams had better hope Crawford becomes the second domino to fall.
“They should both do well on the market,” Lopes said, a refrain GMs are no doubt aware of.