Was Jayson Werth a better signing for Washington than Carl Crawford was for Boston?

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It seems crazy to suggest that the Werth signing was better than the Crawford signing but, as reader Jack Marshall pointed out to me over the weekend, Tom Boswell of the Washington Post does:

With the $142 million deal they gave to Carl Crawford, who has spent nine seasons proving that Fenway Park damages every part of his game, the Boston Red Sox just made the Washington Nationalslook smart. Or, at least, the Nats now look a lot less dumb for giving Jayson Werth $126 million … in lopsided Fenway Park, which works against all his tendencies as a hitter, Crawford has only hit one home run every 85 at-bats. In 338 career plate appearances in Fenway, a large sample over many years, he has an ugly .275/.301/.406 line.

There’s a name for speedy, weak-armed left fielders with those numbers. They’re called AAAA players.

Crawford’s line in Fenway Park is weighed down pretty heavily by his first three years in the league when he couldn’t do a damn thing there. He was up and down in Fenway between 2005 and 2008.  In 2009 he posted a line of .342/.350/.500 in Fenway. In 2010 it was .324/.350/.432.  Shocker: as Crawford has become a better hitter, he has become a better hitter in Fenway.  And all of that, we must remember, comes against what have been very good Red Sox’ pitching staffs.  I don’t think he’ll have a problem there.

Boswell also notes that Crawford’s defense is not suited to Fenway Park in that he has great range which will be wasted in that small left field.  Probably worth noting that the Red Sox play 81 games on the road.  Probably also worth noting that range goes side to side and not just forward and backwards. Again, this seems like a nit that Boswell is picking here.

Carl Crawford is a better all-around player than Jayson Werth. He’s younger. The Red Sox have more money to spend than the Nats.  The Red Sox, unlike the Nats, are capable of challenging for the pennant in the short term, thereby justifying a deal that is more likely to pay dividends in the short, rather than the long term. I mean, yes, Crawford’s deal is long and expensive and may turn out to be bad, but I can’t see any way that it’s worse than Werth’s, and nothing Boswell writes here changes my mind about that.

Meanwhile, on the cold, cold Hot Stove . . .

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It’s Hot Stove Season baby! You know what that means! Yep: time to watch some teams sign a few relievers to minor league deals and then wait everyone out until February while talking about the need to maintain financial flexibility! FEEL THE BURN.

In more specific news:

We’ve talked a lot about Betts this winter already, and that seems like madness. Bryant’s career with the Cubs began with business-side acrimony, it’s still simmering, and there is no sense that either side is amenable to a long-term deal before he hits free agency. The Indians have been signaling for some time that they have no interest in keeping Lindor long term.

It’s quite the thing when three teams who are supposed to be contending are, instead, looking to deal recent MVP award winners and candidates who are 27 and 26 years old, but these are the times in which we are living.

  • Joe Sheehan wrote an excellent column for Baseball America last week analyzing the attendance drop MLB experienced in 2019. Which is just the latest in a series of attendance drops. As Joe notes there is a very, very strong connection between teams (a) signaling to fans during the offseason that they are not interested in signing or retaining players or otherwise being competitive; and (b) teams suffering attendance losses.

As I wrote last offseason, there is an increasing disconnect between attendance and other proxies of broad fan interest and revenue. Which is to say that, as long as teams continue to get fat on long-term TV deals, side businesses like real estate development, and soaking a smaller and wealthier segment of the fan base with higher and higher prices, they really have no reason to care if several thousand common or casual fans become alienated by their teams’ lack of desire to compete.

Sullivan doesn’t offer ideas about how that can happen, but over the past couple of seasons we’ve seen a number of proposals, some broad, some specific, about how MLB can turn its free agency/trading period into frantic, 1-3 day scrambles-to-sign like we see in both the NBA and NFL. I’m sympathetic to that desire — it’s exciting! — but any attempt to do that in Major League Baseball, at least as things are currently set up, would be a disaster for the players.

In the NBA and NFL you have salary caps and floors and, in the NBA, you have max contracts. As a result, teams both have a set amount of money to spend and an incentive to spend that money. We can quibble with whether those incentives are the best ones or if they benefit the players as much as other systems might, but there’s at least something inherent in their systems which inspires teams to sign free agents.

In Major League Baseball, there is no such incentive. May teams want to keep payrolls as low as possible under the guise of rebuilding or tanking and there is no effective mechanism to keep them from doing so. Even nominal contenders — see the Cubs, Indians and Red sox in item 1 above — spend more time thinking about how to cut payroll rather than add talent. This is bolstered by the stuff in item 2 above in which attendance and even winning has less of an impact on the bottom line than it ever has.

So, why scramble to sign players by a set deadline? Under most of the scenarios I see floated — like the laughably horrible one MLB reportedly suggested to the MLBPA — teams would just wait out free agents until deadline day, give them crappy take-it-or-leave-it offers and then leave them all scrambling to sign one-year deals or to sit the season out.

For such a thing to happen — or for teams to want to keep their bright young stars or for the league to want to maintain fan interest and keep attendance from continuing to slide — there must be incentives put in place to make them want to sign and retain players. To make them want to win. To make them want to excite the fan base.

At present, such incentives are not there. And, as such, we are faced with yet another winter with a cold, cold stove.