There's a near consensus among the fanbase, Angels media, and one very vocal rightfielder that Carl Crawford is the way to go. If that's a fait accompli, it's an expensive one to be certain. By many accounts, Crawford will net a Torii Hunter contract (18M per annum) with an extra year or two tacked on, making him the highest-paid player in MLB history who has never hit 20 HRs in a season.
Crawford is a player who has a career walk rate of 5.4% (well below the MLB avg of 8.5%) -- not a real leadoff option, however the hopeful want to convince themselves otherwise -- who is two seasons removed from an injury-plagued season where he had an OPS of .719. Yes, it was a finger injury -- but exactly the sort of injury that a hard-charging corner outfielder is likely to come up with a few times over a contract. We should expect it -- and other types of lower body injuries that a player who has played 8+ years on turf is likely to accumulate when over age thirty.
Okay, okay. You can tell that I'm not a big advocate for spending 100M+ on Carl Crawford. It seems like a move out of exaggerated desperation -- as if the Angels had an abject need for a speedy corner outfielder, when in fact the farm is riddled with them, and the team is much more depth-deprived at third base, in starting pitching, and in OBP-rich leadoff candidates.
So...what are some alternatives? We've all heard that Napoli is the Angels' top trade chip, and it's an iffy prospect that he'll be with the team in 2011. He's a fan favorite and a rare commodity (a catcher with power), so it behooves us to get something of value for him. At the same time, both the Red Sox and the Dodgers are in a position of need at catcher, and the fact that the Detroit Tigers just gobbled up Victor Martinez has slimmed the number of promising candidates on the market.
So let's focus on three alternatives that Boston and the Bluebloods may present.
Let's say the Angels' trade nucleus is Mike Napoli and Jeremy Moore. I don't mean to overhype Moore -- there's perhaps a 25% chance that he'll be something useful at the Major League level. He's still raw, but he's coming off a strong year in a tough pitcher's park in AA, which he followed up with an impressive performance in the Arizona Fall League. He's no direct replacement for the leftfielders he would supplant, but he might turn into something of value in a year or two, with coaching and experience. The guaranteed value is Napoli, who would be under club control for two years, and who is a 2.5 to 3 WAR player even given only 450 PAs a season.
Let's look at the two best free agent left-fielders on the market beside three left-fielders from Boston and LA. It's always hard to project future performance -- three-year splits and career averages may be no better than last year's outperformance in the end. I'm just going to go will Bill James' projections for next season. They can be a little optimistic at times, but at least they're fueled by significant aggregate data.
Carl Crawford (LHB) Age in 2011: 30 Likely cost: $17-19M, 6-7 yrs
James Projection: .300/.350/.453 93 runs / 14 HRs / 71 RBIs / 42 SBs (12 CS)
Jacoby Ellsbury (LHB) Age in 2011: 27 Cost: 1M in arbitration? (Arb. Eligible through 2013)
James Projection: .300/.355/.409 102 runs / 8 HRs / 58 RBIs / 59 SBs (14 CS)
Ryan Kalish (LHB) Age in 2011: 23 Cost: League minimum (under club control for five years)
James Projection: .271/.340/.452 94 runs / 20 HRs / 82 RBIs / 43 SBs (8 CS)
Matt Kemp (RHB) Age in 2011: 26 Cost: $6.95M in '11 + incentives (under club control through 2012)
James Projection: .280/.339/.484 98 runs / 27 HRs / 95 RBIs / 24 SBs (11 CS)
Jayson Werth (RHB) Age in 2011: 31 Likely cost: $14-17M, 4 yrs + option
James Projection: .275/.375/.493 98 runs / 28 HRs / 91 RBIs / 14 SB (4 CS)
The first thing to pop out at you is how much more value the trade alternatives deliver when the cost of Crawford and Werth are taken into account. The second is how much better Werth is projected to be over Crawford -- though there are many reasons to think that Werth is likely to break down more quickly than Crawford over the span of a long contract. Werth has also benefited to a degree from Citizens Bank Park (though not as much as one might think -- he actually delivered a higher OPS on the road two of the past four years).
To me, however, the big surprise is how good the projections think Ryan Kalish is going to be. Who is Ryan Kalish, you may ask? (Everyone probably knows the others on this list.) He was the Red Sox's #5 prospect coming into 2010, according to Baseball America, and is Boston's #2 prospect now, according to Red Sox Prospects. He's an interesting case, as he made his premier last season at the same time Peter Bourjos did.
Kalish is one year younger than Bourjos, both being born in late March. Both are known as speedy guys with plus defense, but Kalish has the higher power ceiling and more plate discipline. Bourjos, on the other hand, is likely to last in centerfield, where Kalish will move to one of the corners. He looked very good in left field last season for the Sox, but ranked only average in centerfield, though there were some glowing media reports, and one has to consider how difficult CF is to learn in Fenway. (Remember Reggie Willits anyone?) Let's look at the slash lines on Kalish and Bourjos for their first cups of coffee:
Bourjos (193 PAs, 51 games): .204/.237/.381 19 runs / 6 HRs / 19 RBIs / 10 SB (3 CS)
Kalish (179 PAs, 53 games): .252/.305/.405 26 runs / 4 HRs / 24 RBIs / 10 SB (1 CS)
It does provide a little perspective. Bourjos' defense is majestic, but Kalish looks more like he's ready to hit now. As a LF in limited play, his defense was very solid (+10.2 UZR/150), but it was 12 games, so who's telling? But the minor league reports indicate his defense is very solid at the corners. The Red Sox -- with Ellsbury, Drew, Cameron and Kalish in the stables -- have the luxury of slow-walking Kalish and giving him some more seasoning in AAA, but he's ready now for a team willing to give him the ABs.
So would Napoli and Moore be enough to secure one of Ellsbury or Kalish? Hard to tell. Both are big with the fans. Ellsbury is a legitimate injury risk, and there's media scuttlebutt about disaffection between him and the front office due to mis-diagnosis of his injuries by team physicians. The fact that the Sox have both players ready to go makes it more likely that they trade one of the two, and perhaps look for Crawford and Werth in free agency. I'm less bullish on the Napoli/Moore package getting it done for Kemp -- but there are other packages that could be built to snare that fish.
I'll leave the plausibility of attaining any of these guys for Haloheads to hash out in the following thread, but I wanted to throw some alternatives out there to throw some more light on the Crawford gamble. I think there's more than one way to fill leftfield in Angels Stadium.