Can the A's Use a Free Carl Crawford?

By Jason Wojciechowski on June 6, 2016 at 8:25 AM

You may have seen that the Dodgers designated Carl Crawford for assignment over the weekend. He's owed close to $22 million for next season, plus the remainder of hi $21.6 million salary for this year, so nobody's going to claim him on waivers, and the only way the Dodgers work out a trade is if they pick up his entire salary, the idea being that they get a tiny something back (like an A-ball reliever) rather than nothing for what works out the same way no matter how this goes: no Crawford on the roster, yes Crawford on the payroll. If a trade doesn't happen, then, Crawford will be a free agent and any team can sign him and pay him only the minimum, with the Dodgers picking up the rest. The question, then, is whether the A's should be pursue him, either by giving up that A-ball prospect or wooing him to Oakland in free agency.

Crawford has been pitiful this season in only 87 plate appearances, slashing .185/.230/.235, though over his last four years, he hit .285/.326/.421, which works out, by OPS+, to a little above the league average. He's been exclusively a left fielder that whole time, however, and it's now been over seven years since he last saw an inning in center. Joc Pederson solidified center for the Dodgers last year, but the 2014 version of the team gave Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, and Scott Van Slyke 1,400 innings in center while Crawford stayed put in left. This is to say that if we're pondering the idea of hiring Crawford to play left and center as a fourth outfielder, that's probably a foolish dream. On the current A's, that's no big deal because Coco Crisp and Billy Burns are around to play center, so a left-field-only Crawford wouldn't be such a bad thing if he's an upgrade with the bat. Whether that works on the 2017 A's, which will have Crisp only if he gets to 130 games or 550 plate appearances this year, is an open question.

I would probably take Crawford over Jake Smolinski or Andrew Lambo, at least on a trial basis to give the A's coaches an up-close chance to see if they can get some semblance of hitting out of him, but the problem here in 2016 is that that's not his competition. Once Josh Reddick comes back from the disabled list, Smolinski will head back to Triple-A and the A's will have that six-headed Butler-Davis-Crisp-Burns-Reddick-Coghlan situation for the three outfield spots and DH again. Putting aside the question of cutting Butler, which is probably more of a pipe dream than anything, the real possibility is sending down Tyler Ladendorf and putting Crawford in his roster spot. This returns the A's to their early-season situation where Jed Lowrie backs up Marcus Semien at short (even while Lowrie is starting at second) and Chris Coghlan backs up Lowrie at second and Danny Valencia at third (even while he's often starting himself). As Earl Weaver said, you keep your backup shortstop in Triple-A, so long as you figure you can get through a few innings of an emergency situation without anyone popping a hamstring trying to play a new position. (Remind me to run some "two infielders down" scenarios here at some point.)

As a hitter, I'll take Crawford over Ladendorf, the latter having hit at approximately Crawfordian levels even in the high minors, put aside his brief appearances in the majors. But that's just the roster spot—is he worth all the trouble (e.g. using your free 40-man spot (putting Mark Canha on the 60-day DL) for him rather than, say, Matt Olson or Daniel Mengden midyear) if he's going to get Ladendorfian playing time? Crisp is a better player right now, almost certainly, and if you sit him for Crawford too many times, you run the risk of griping about unfair manipulation of Crisp's playing time to avoid his vesting option; Burns may or may not have a future in this league, and now's the time to find out; Davis and Reddick are two bright spots on the team, though Davis more for his lottery-ticket power than his actual overall quality; and Coghlan needs playing time to rebuild his value so the A's can try to get something for him from a contender at the trade deadline.

All of which is to say that Crawford would be anchored pretty well to the bench, spotting in for a guy who needs rest on occasion (in left field, that is, with other players moving around to cover the actual resting player).

That's the short term, though. With the A's sitting at 2.2 percent playoff odds by Baseball Prospectus' reckoning, they're probably looking at a moderate sell-off over the next six weeks. Coghlan and Reddick, as pending free agents, are obvious targets, but I could see Crisp, Lowrie, Vogt, and Valencia drawing enough interest to make it worth the A's while. (Vogt's already in his 30s and might have more value to a contender this year than to the 2018 A's; Valencia the same, as he's a smidge older than Vogt.) The A's could find themselves needing bodies, in other words, and trying to acquire Crawford now to be one of those bodies could pay off, if nothing else than in the form of allowing him to rebuild a little bit of value and making him a 2016-17 offseason trade target. (Not a Khris Davis trade target, where he costs a top-100 prospect, but where you get a little bit more value back than you paid for him, perhaps.) If the A's do play to sell hard this summer, a promise of full-time action for Crawford might be what entices him to sign with the A's over a team with a nicer stadium, or one with a shot at the playoffs. (Might the Mariners prefer him to Stefen Romero?)

Is this going to happen? Nah. But when I started thinking about doing a "could the A's sign Crawford" exercise I figured I'd come to a very quick "haha, no" type of answer. I guess "he wouldn't make no sense" isn't saying much, but: he wouldn't make no sense.