In the curious case of Carl Crawford, hindsight is 7/142. That’s 7 years and $142M worth of buyers remorse shared unevenly between the Red Sox and Dodgers with the Dodgers bearing the brunt of the burden. That Crawford under-performed expectations/projections seems an inescapable conclusion. That he physically broke down at an inopportune time seems equally obvious. That’s the hot take when looking back from 2016.
What about looking forward from 2010? The Red Sox were coming off of a 95-win season that ended in a 3-0 LDS sweep by the Angels. They had replacing Jason Bay in LF high on their wishlist of off-season items. Crawford had just finished a 7.7 fWAR season before entering the market with his free agent stock at peak value. He averaged 146 games played per season before the Red Sox signed him to a 7 year, $142M deal before the 2011 season. The calculus of the deal made sense inasmuch as a $142M for anything can make sense. The rest is underwhelming history. Crawford’s cumulative fWAR since signing the deal sits at 5.3 with an estimated value of $39M.
There but for the grace of the baseball gods go the Cardinals.
Flashback to July of 2009 when the Cardinals were holding onto a slim division lead and looking to add a bat. The A’s were 15 games back and falling in the AL West. They were willing to deal Holliday along with his expiring contract, and a return of 3 prospects plus the millions they wouldn’t have to pay Holliday made it a reasonable deal for both sides.
Then Holliday went on to bash his way to a .303/.357/.606 slash line in August to help propel the Cardinals to a 20-6 record for the month and onto the playoffs. That’s quite an impression to make in a trial period. In fact, he was so impressive that the Cardinals worked to extend his stay in St Louis by signing Holliday to a 7 year, $140M contract just days before his 30th birthday.
That’s a lot of money even in baseball terms, and it was certainly a lot of money for a team that had yet to break the $100M opening day payroll threshold. It turned out to be a bargain.
To this point, the Cardinals have paid roughly $129M of that $140M owed Holliday over the course of that contract. In return, Holliday has provided 24.2 fWAR since the beginning of 2010. According to Fangraphs, that roughly equates to $169.5M in value.
Sure, he seems to be on the decline. His current line drive rate of 13.3% is the lowest of his career and well below his career average of 19.3%. His ground ball rate is 54.4% which is the highest of his career and well above his career average of 45.7%. The good news is that he’s hitting the ball hard a lot (38% of the time), and that serves as a potential indicator that he’ll improve upon his current .268 BABip. And even if he doesn’t, he can still provide 1.5-2.0 fWAR of value this season.
In the grand scheme of things, his numbers over the next 100+ games matter only in the context of the team’s competitiveness this season. Those numbers can do very little to negatively impact the overall return on investment. Holliday has already held up his end of what turned out to be quite a bargain, and you may be hard-pressed to say the same about many other long term contracts.