The Rays had to at least make the effort but the result was as predictable because many just do not appreciate how much of a bargain Carl Crawford has been for the Rays in his career here. In 2005, he signed a deal that paid him $15.25m from 2005 to 2008 until the team-controlled options kicked in for 2009 and 2010 for another $8.25m and $10m respectively. After this season, Crawford could very well land a deal with a yearly draw somewhere in between what he made from 2005-2008 and what he was paid across the last two seasons. Fangraphs tells us that Crawford has been paid just under $22m in his career but his bat and glove has would have cost the team $105.1m to replace with similar production on the open market. Compare that to this past off-season’s largest name, Matt Holliday, who had earned just over $28m in his career but had produced just under $120m of open market value. Ironically, that $120m figure is exactly what Holliday’s new contract went for. What this means is Crawford’s agent is likely looking for an offer that breaks the $100m plateau – a figure that is currently nearly $30m higher than the entire roster’s payroll and would likely command an annual salary of $17m per season.
I can appreciate wanting to retain Crawford beyond this season because he is without a doubt, the best player in franchise history to date. Sure, Evan Longoria or B.J. Upton may eclipse that role at some point but for now, Crawford is the face of the franchise. When Aubrey Huff left the club, only the strippers at Mons Venus shed a tear because the fanbase had grown tired of his 1,234 grounders to second base and his disinterested attitude on the field. When the club traded Scott Kazmir last year, most fans recognized the move for what is was – getting something for nothing in a season where the club’s chances to win were extremely slim. Kazmir was not the same Kid K pitcher everyone fell in love with when he first came up and it had become increasingly frustrating to watch him pitch well in spurts only to have meltdowns at inopportune moments. The club was fortunate to get the haul they did for Kazmir considering the club would likely have let him walk at season’s end rather than take the risk of offering him arbitration. Huff and Kazmir were both on their decline as Rays players but the exact opposite is happening with Crawford as he is at the peak of his game which is what will make his departure that much more painful. The salt in the wound for Crawford’s departure is if he ends up donning a Yankee or a Red Sox uniform for the next six seasons because the only thing that would be more painful for Rays fans than watching Crawford play for someone else is watching him 18-19 times a season in one of those two uniforms.
I have said all along the best possible thing for the Rays in 2010 is to win and win early. The longer the club is in contention, the longer Crawford stays in a Rays uniform. If he can get through July with the club, then he stays through the end of the season because Crawford never makes it through a waiver claim and no club will be willing to trade more in player value than what the Rays will get in offering Crawford arbitration and claiming the two first round draft picks from his new team and Major League Baseball. If the Rays were going to trade Crawford, the best time would have been last trade deadline, much like the Indians did with Cliff Lee although I certainly would have wanted more quality than the Indians got in that quantity trade. Given the fact the club has Desmond Jennings waiting in the wings for much, much cheaper and the club has already strongly hinted at a payroll reduction after this season, the writing on the wall was already quite clear.
For those who want the club to resign Crawford as well as Carlos Pena at all costs, look at the Astros situation in2010. The club went out and signed Carlos Lee in the 2006 off-season to a 6 year deal for $100m – what I expect Crawford will get this off-season. This season, the Astros owe him $18.5, as they do in 2011 and 2012. In Lee’s entire career, he has never produced more than $15.4m of open market value so the Astros are overpaying an aging slugger at the tune of $54m over the next three seasons. In an article two weeks ago, I pointed out that Crawford, Pena, Rafael Soriano, and Pat Burrell represented 50% of the 2010 payroll for the Rays; Carlos Lee takes up over 20% of the 2010 Astros payroll all by himself. Because the club is paying Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Lance Berkman a combined $48.5m in 2010, the depth of the club is in sad shape as the club is forced to put Brian Moehler in the rotation, field quite possibly the worst catching tandem in all of baseball, and play a rookie at shortstop who has all of five plate appearances in the big leagues and turns 27 the second week of the season. The Astros are playing with a payroll of $90m and are having problems affording decent talent; the Rays are likely to have a 2011 payroll which will be at best, 2/3rd of that. That means Crawford’s hypothetical deal could eat up as much as 30% of the Rays 2011 payroll should they pay him fair market value. No club can afford to take that type of risk – even Alex Rodriguez only represents 12.5% of the Yankees’ payroll.
Logically, I expect we’ll hear local radio hosts calling the Rays cheap or a columnist penning a piece that the Rays are once again pinching pennies at the expense of upsetting the fanbase but unless Crawford takes a serious hometown discount or the club gives him a share in ownership, there is no feasible way the club can afford to re-sign him in 2010. Crawford and his agent have already given the Rays a hometown discount with his current deal as the last two options would have been his first two years of free agency. The Rays have paid roughly $25m to Crawford over the past five seasons and he has produced $83.2m of open market value so he is entitled to receive full market value this time around – a value the Rays cannot possibly put on the table. It has been an absolute pleasure to watch him play all of these years so enjoy 2010 as much as possible as the greatest player in Rays’ history makes his farewell tour around the area as he heads off to greener pastures.