Part of being a sportswriter these days is always being on top of your stuff. I check my e-mail constantly. I’m on Twitter all day. I don’t sleep as much, or as well as I used to, since I’m always afraid that if I go to bed too early, or sleep in too late, I might miss something important. At this point, I’m even up on Saturday’s and Sunday’s before 7:00 a.m. Tough life, huh?
So with that said, it’s only logical that right before I went to bed on Wednesday night, I did my final Twitter/e-mail check of the evening. Granted, I’d just done the same check 20 minutes before. But again it’s just part of that whole “staying on top of your stuff,” thing.
I wasn’t expecting to see much in that final go around, until I logged on Twitter and saw, one, minor, innocuous posting: Ken Rosenthal was reporting that Carl Crawford and the Red Sox had just agreed to a seven year, $142 million contract.
I had literally read a half an hour before that Crawford to the Angels was a done deal. That all that was left to consummate the deal was dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Was Crawford to the Sox for real?
Quickly I flipped on Sportscenter and saw nothing. I checked ESPN.com, and all that was showing up was the archaic Crawford to the Angels article from 20 minutes before. MLB Network had nothing. But as the night rolled on, the Tweets just kept piling up, and apparently, Carl Crawford was going to be a Red Sock. One of my favorite players had just signed on to play for my favorite team, yet as I flipped off the lights and rolled around in bed, I’ve got to admit that the signing left me a bit uneasy. Let me explain.
On the one hand, I’m a Red Sox fan. That means a lot of things, but in relevance to this column what’s most important is that I’ve seen Crawford play quite a bit over these last half dozen years. With that said, the Crawford signing has me excited. Ok, I’m beyond excited. Truthfully, I haven’t been this tingly inside since the night of my Senior Prom.
The Red Sox just acquired one of the 10 most exciting athletes in professional sports, and one of the two or three most exciting in baseball. Hands down. Crawford is a physical freak with enough raw athleticism to have been recruited to play both football at Nebraska and basketball at UCLA. Instead he chose baseball to put food on the table, despite having barely played the sport in high school.
Since then, Crawford has evolved into one of the seven wonders of the baseball world, to the point that at 29-years-old, his former manager in Tampa, Joe Maddon has said that Crawford is just now reaching his full potential. Not bad for a guy who’s stolen at least 45 bases in six of the last seven years, and hit over .300 in five of them.
But looking at the raw stats doesn’t do justice to how fun it is just to watch him. Every Crawford at bat is “must see,” simply because he can turn a poorly played single into a double, and a double in the gap into a triple. Every time Crawford reaches base, it’s the kind of excitement Red Sox fans haven’t seen since Manny Ramirez was stumbling around left field like a drunken sailor. Crawford once stole six bases in one game, and I was personally watching him one night when he stole home…standing up, mind you. And I get to watch him upwards of 160 times next year. I feel like a kid whose parents gave them a brand new car on their 16th birthday. What did I do to deserve this?
Unfortunately, with all that said there’s always a “but.” And in this case, the “but,” comes in those mixed emotions I mentioned before. Because as exciting as this Crawford signing is for me personally, I can’t help but think that it’s terrible for baseball.
Seriously, the Red Sox just spent (a justified) $142 million on Crawford, thumping Anaheim’s bid by an extra year and close to $30 million over the length of the contract. That came on the heels of Boston acquiring Adrian Gonzalez and doling out a seven year extension that’s going to pay a reported $23 million a year. Now I’m not a math major, but if my calculations are correct, that’s close to $300 million through 2017…for two guys! Which leads to my next question: Is Theo Epstein running a baseball team, or the U.S. Treasury?
And it’s not like Theo hasn’t spent money recently either. This is a guy who handed a $40 million extension to a soon to be 30-year-old Josh Becket in spring training last March. Granted, that singing wouldn’t have been that bad, except Beckett was throwing 89 mph fastballs which at the time could barely break a pane of glass, let alone an opposing hitter’s bats. Yet there was Theo throwing $40 million at him. A few months prior, the Red Sox gave John Lackey $80 million to be their No. 3 starter.
Now I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining. As a fan, ultimately, all you can ask for from ownership is to put the most compelling and competitive team on the field possible. And I get why the Red Sox gave each and every guy the money they did, even if I didn’t agree with all of it. If the Red Sox hadn’t swooped in with a huge check for Crawford, they ran the risk of losing him to the Yankees like they did Mark Teixeira two years ago. If they hadn’t traded for Gonzalez, they ran the risk of having God knows who playing one of the corner infield positions. If they hadn’t extended Beckett in the spring, he might have blown up during the regular season which would’ve pushed his price tag up. To stay competitive in the current climate, these are moves that had to be made. Again, I’m not complaining, and I’m not pointing fingers.
But at the same time, is the Red Sox throwing around money like this good for baseball?
Look, we’ve known for a long time that the business model of the sport is broken, and I hate to be the 8,217th sportswriter to bring that up. But still, how is the Red Sox spending this much money good for the game? How is it fiscally healthy when Boston trumped one of the other “big spenders,” for Crawford by over $30 million? How is good when two teams are playing by a completely different set of rules than everyone else? People have been saying for years that baseball is about the “haves” and “have not’s,” but really that’s too simplistic. Baseball has turned into a caste system, with the Red Sox and Yankees at the top, Philadelphia, the Mets, Cubs and Angels in the middle, and everybody else picking up the scraps. How is that good for anyone?
Now, I know this has all been a problem for awhile now. I get it. But really, things haven’t been this bad, for nearly as long as most people think.
As my buddy Steve pointed out on the phone last night, in our lifetime (I’m 25), the Toronto Blue Jays have won two World Series, and before them the Minnesota Twins won two as well. For a time, the Pittsburgh Pirates were the best team in the National League, and for an even shorter time the Montreal Expos had maybe the best team ever in 1994. Well, what does it say about things when the Pirates have had 18 straight losing seasons since Barry Bonds left town? For all the things that may be wrong with the NBA and NFL, say this about them: At least they’re structured so that if teams draft well, and handle their finances responsibly, everyone has an equal chance to compete.
And speaking of the Pirates, the contemporary version of them has to be the Tampa Bay Rays right? While we’ve been throwing around the term “genius,” with Theo Epstein the last few years, it’s Andrew Friedman who should have that title. Theo’s got more resources, money and fan support than anyone not named “Cashman,”, yet Friedman built a two-time AL East champion in Tampa with super glue, duct tape and a budget tighter than Garth Brooks’ jeans.
Well what happens with the Rays now? In the last week they’ve lost Crawford, Carlos Pena, Jason Bartlett, most of their bullpen and a partridge in a pear tree for monetary reasons. Not to mention that they might trade Matt Garza in the coming weeks too. Are they going to turn into this decade’s Oakland A’s, who simply lost too much talent, too quickly and never recovered? Again, I’m happy my team signed Crawford, but there’s something hollow about it, considering the fact that Tampa signed, developed and nurtured him only to see him walk away. Am I supposed to feel good about that?
Of course in the Red Sox defense, that’s just the economics of baseball. They’ve got the money, and they’ve got the ability to spend. Tampa doesn’t. But beyond just simple finances, you know why this signing really hurts? Like, really, really makes me queezy? Because it officially makes the Red Sox no better than the Yankees.
Sorry Red Sox fans, it’s true.
Granted, we may have been tip-toeing the line for awhile now. But at least the Sox could always claim that there were some restrictions on their budget, that they couldn’t just keep driving up the price until the competition screamed mercy. Kind of like two years ago, when owner John Henry said, “We all have limits,” during the Teixeira derby.
Well with the Crawford and Gonzalez acquisitions, the Red Sox officially stopped toeing that line, put two feet firmly on the ground and jumped over it. They’re now the uber-elite. Money is no longer an issue. Remember, Crawford will be taking over in the outfield for last year’s offseason dud signing Mike Cameron, who has officially become a $7.5 million a year bench player. What does it say about the ownership and management, when they can just pull out the checkbook, and throw an extra $30 million at Crawford to make up for last year’s mistake signing? This is also a pretty convenient time to mention that the Red Sox paid Julio Lugo a good chunk of money to play in St. Louis last year! The Red Sox have become everything they’ve always despised, a team that puts any price on winning
Now I know Boston has had one the higher payrolls in baseball for awhile now, but their spending hasn’t always felt this way.
Yes the payroll was high for the 2004 championship club, but still, that team just felt like a bunch of regular guys, a bunch of guys who you felt like would've played baseball for free if they couldn’t get a contract. Sure Kevin Millar, Trot Nixon and Bill Mueller were well compensated, but their presence alone gave a different feel to the Sox. Boston was the “everyman’s team.” Trot, Millar, whoever, seemed like the kind of guys you could go have a beer with. The kind of guys you could make obscene comments about women with. The kind of guys you’d see grabbing a slice of pizza at two in the morning after the bars closed. Again, they may have been millionaires, but they seemed like you and I.
Even in 2007, when a lot of those guys had been removed for higher priced replacements, there was still something endearing about this team. Manny and Papi were still “Manny and Papi,” and the young guys like Ellsbury, Pedroia and Lester gave the team a spunk and excitement that kept the team likeable through the second title run.
While I’m not saying that Crawford and Gonzalez won’t be likeable (I expect quite the opposite actually), somewhere along the line, the culture of the organization changed. The young guys are a little older and better compensated, and the new guys bring a different feel to the club. Yes I’m excited about Crawford in a Red Sox uniform. It does make me a little uneasy though, that he’d have been just as happy to be in a Yankees or Angels uniform if they’d paid him the same. Do I blame him for taking the money? Of course not. But it does make everything the whole situation seem like a bit more of a business than a game.
Still, I’m marching on and moving on and getting ready for a new era in Boston. The Red Sox as currently constructed will enter the season as no worse than co-favorites along with the Yankees (if they sign Cliff Lee), to win the World Series. If the cards fall right, and they can avoid injuries, this team could very well take home their third title in seven years. Which makes me feel pretty darn good. I can’t lie.
Unfortunately, I have to imagine that the rest of baseball isn’t nearly as excited about Boston’s signings. The Red Sox just spent $300 million on two players, to go along with a bunch of other guys that constituted the second highest payroll in baseball last year. Sure some guys left (Mike Lowell, Adrian Beltre) to make room on the payroll, but this is still one of the only two super-powers in baseball. Which I’m sure is rubbing a lot of people the wrong way.
For a long time the Red Sox were one of the best things going in baseball. Now they’re just a part of the bigger problem.
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