Carl Crawford could be a perfect fit for Angels, but with a big price

Carl Crawford has been called a “game-changer,” and by all accounts, the dynamic free-agent left fielder is the perfect fit this winter for the Angels, who stagnated on offense and sagged on defense for much of a disappointing 2010 season.

The speedy 29-year-old hit .307 with 19 home runs, 30 doubles, 13 triples, 110 runs, 90 runs batted in and 47 stolen bases for Tampa Bay last season, and he has long been considered one of the best defensive left fielders in the game.

Crawford, 6 feet 2 and 215 pounds, embodies all that Manager Mike Scioscia loves in a player, a two-way threat who hit .359 with runners in scoring position last season.

But as sleek and shiny as Crawford looks on the showroom floor, he comes with a hefty sticker price and no extended warranty.


The left-handed-hitting four-time All-Star is expected to command an annual average salary of at least $17 million, and there are indications he is seeking a deal of eight years or more, pushing his cost well past $100 million.

The Angels and Boston Red Sox are considered front-runners to land him, but the deep-pocketed Detroit Tigers are interested, and the New York Yankees are lurking.

The big questions facing any suitor: How much is a player whose game is tilted more toward speed than power really worth? And what kind of player will Crawford be as he approaches his mid-30s and possibly loses a step?

Though Crawford established career highs for average, runs, home runs and RBIs last season, he has averaged only 12 homers and 70 RBIs while playing 81/2 years in hitter-friendly Tropicana Field.


As fast as he is -- Crawford has five seasons with 50 or more stolen bases -- he has a subpar .337 career on-base percentage, rarely bunts and does not consider himself a leadoff hitter.

He hit third for the Rays in the final 49 games of 2010, but his power is not on par with most American League No. 3 batters.

“I can understand people thinking that,” Tampa Bay Manager Joe Maddon said, when asked about Crawford’s value as he slows down, “but he’s not just a slap-the-ball-and-run guy.

“His home runs are no fluke … He almost hit the back wall of the Trop a few times last year, and he’s hit really high, really far homers. He’s one of those guys who, if he wanted to hit more home runs, he would.”


Indeed, Crawford’s career home (.305, 53 homers, 304 RBIs) and road (.289, 51 homers, 288 RBIs) splits are almost identical.

Maddon, who has managed the Rays for five years, said Crawford focuses on spraying line drives rather than lifting the ball. He’s also patient and has a good command of the strike zone.

As Crawford ages, “He won’t steal as many bases, and he may lose a few infield hits, but it won’t impact his average, RBIs and runs,” Maddon said. “It might affect him a little on defense because he does cover a lot of ground. He just makes that space in the outfield disappear. But I think he’ll learn how to utilize the power he has.”

The Angels have made Crawford the focal point of their free-agent shopping season, but will they have the stomach to stick with the Red Sox and possibly the Yankees if the bidding for Crawford soars in dollars and years?


Last winter, they refused to extend a fifth year for pitcher John Lackey, whom they lost to the Red Sox, and a fourth year for infielder Chone Figgins, whom they lost to Seattle.

Owner Arte Moreno has also had an aversion to bidding wars. His negotiating tactic with high-profile players such as Torii Hunter and Mark Teixeira has been to make his best offer up front and let the player decide to accept it or walk.

But Moreno did offer Teixeira eight years and $160 million two winters ago and Alfonso Soriano seven years and $119 million before 2007; he continues to thank his lucky wallet Soriano spurned the Angels for the Chicago Cubs’ eight-year, $136-million deal.

General Manager Tony Reagins won’t comment on free-agent negotiations, but a source familiar with the team’s thinking said the Angels would prefer to pay Crawford a higher average annual salary over five or six years instead of extending to seven or eight years. Crawford’s agents, Greg Genske and Brian Peters, also declined to comment.


According to noted baseball statistician Bill James, the closest comparable player to Crawford at this stage of his career is Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente.

In fact, of the 27 major league players with 3,000 hits or more, only five -- Ty Cobb, Robin Yount, Hank Aaron, Al Kaline and Tris Speaker -- had more hits through their age 28 seasons than Crawford, who has 1,480 hits.

“He’s quite a force on both sides of the ball,” Maddon said.

“Carl is still learning things. He’s still relatively young, he’s really motivated to get better every day, and he works really hard.”