Tampa Bay Rays four-time All-Star Carl Crawford will hit the free-agent market this offseason as one of the favorites to land the most lucrative long-term contract.
The 29-year-old Crawford hit .307 with 19 homers, 90 RBI and 47 stolen bases for the Rays in 2010 to lead his club to an AL East divisional title before Tampa was eliminated by the Texas Rangers in Game 5 of the ALDS.
It’s no secret that Crawford loves the Rays, who selected the Houston native in the second round of the 1999 First-Year Player Draft.
After all, the four-time AL stolen base champion has played a significant role over nine seasons in the growth of Tampa from being a laughingstock in Major League Baseball to emerging as a legitimate World Series contender.
Before making the 2008 World Series, the Rays had finished at the bottom of the AL East in nine of their first 10 seasons.
Upon being eliminated by the Rangers in the 2010 ALDS, it became more evident that Crawford’s days in Tampa were likely over.
Owner Stuart Sternberg reportedly worked his way to Crawford’s locker after Game 5 at Tropicana Field to thank him for everything.
Sternberg informed the media of how his team won’t be able to maintain its payroll over $70 million and the likelihood of it dropping to under $50 million for 2011, making it nearly impossible to re-sign Crawford, slugger Carlos Pena and closer Rafael Soriano as free agents.
With top prospect Desmond Jennings the apparent heir in left field, Crawford confirmed there’s a “high probability” he won’t return to Tampa.
What does this mean for the Houston Astros?
Basically, nothing — Astro fans shouldn’t get their hopes up by expecting the hometown kid to return to Houston.
Astros senior director of digital media Alyson Footer is absolutely correct by putting the odds at “slim to none,” considering general manager Ed Wade has a long-term blueprint in place that doesn’t include offering six-year, $120 million contracts to “Type A” free agents, such as Crawford.
I don’t know Crawford personally, despite the two of us being on the same competitive field in high school on occasion.
What I can tell you, according to a source close to Crawford, is why he isn’t interested in signing with the Astros as a free agent.
1) The Astros don’t intend to reach out to Crawford
If the Astros were one or two pieces away from a World Series, then Wade would likely explore the possibility of adding Crawford.
However, they’re not.
The market for Crawford this offseason will be $120-140 million over six to seven years, which leaves the Astros out.
How can a free agent, like Crawford, sign with a team that isn’t interested in offering a contract? That pretty much closes the door right there.
2) Very comfortable with MLB career away from Houston
Although Crawford grew up and went to high school in Houston, he’s used to playing his professional career elsewhere. Yes, Crawford still resides in Houston during the offseason, but he left the city in 1999 after being drafted in order to play in the minors, then in Tampa.
Sometimes, when an individual lives in one city yet works professionally in another, it’s hard to adjust the entire routine.
There’s a former Astros player who grew up and went to college in Houston, then played the majority of his career on the East Coast before returning home to sign a one-year contract with Houston as a free agent in the mid-1990s.
He told me that playing for the Astros was the biggest mistake of his career.
It had nothing to do with the organization, but simply with the feeling of being smothered by friends and family.
Everyone wanted a piece of him — distant relatives, former high-school friends, teachers, etc. — all wanting to reconnect in a selfish way, mainly for tickets.
I’m not saying the same thing would happen to Carl Crawford if he were to sign with the Astros.
Still, he’s used to playing ball away from Houston, and a permanent return home could increase the odds of disrupting his overall routine and staying focused.
3) World Series titles and Hall of Fame status
Crawford beat the odds in life by making it out of Jefferson Davis High School in Houston to become one of the top current players in Major League Baseball.
In 2007, Davis was cited as a “dropout factory” by a Johns Hopkins University/Associated Press study.
However, Crawford found his way out eight years earlier by excelling at three sports — football, basketball and baseball.
He hit .638 as a senior and had scholarship offers to play college basketball at UCLA, as well as offers from Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma, Florida and Tulsa to play football.
Despite signing a letter-of-intent to play football at Nebraska, Crawford let go of his football and basketball dreams in order to focus exclusively on baseball.
He’s a winner — hungry and passionate — with a strong work ethic.
Crawford will do what’s in his best interest to put himself in position to win multiple World Series titles and follow the path to the Hall of Fame.
On Aug. 17, Crawford recorded his 100th career triple, tying him with legendary Hall of Famer Ty Cobb as the only two players in MLB history to hit 100 triples and steal 400 bases before the age of 30.
Plus, he’s already compiled 1,480 career hits, giving him a legitimate chance to potentially join the “3,000 hit club” as long as he stays healthy for the rest of his career.
These are Hall of Fame-caliber stats.
Crawford knows that Houston could be two or three years away from being a playoff team, and he doesn’t want to wait that long.
He wants to win now and recognizes that his free agency this offseason represents the biggest decision of his entire career.
Ultimately, he would like to stay in the American League, and likely to take a strong look at the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
With the New York Yankees interested in pursuing 2008 AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and content with Brett Gardner in left field, the odds of Crawford landing in the Bronx have significantly decreased.
No ill feelings toward the Astros
Yes, Crawford grew up cheering for the Astros and is best friends with Michael Bourn, but that isn’t enough to sway his decision.
The simple fact remains that Houston won’t be pursuing Crawford as a free agent and he’s interested in other teams.
It’s an issue of timing.
At this point, the Astros aren’t one or two pieces away and can’t afford to abandon the long-term plan by offering a lucrative contract, while Crawford wants a high salary and a chance to sign with a World Series contender.
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