Dodgers 2016 Season Previews: Carl Crawford

Mar 6, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford (3) swings at a pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 6, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers left fielder Carl Crawford (3) swings at a pitch against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at Scottsdale Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Carl Crawford was slated to be the highest-paid bench player in baseball. Injuries have potentially opened a door for him to start in the Dodgers’ outfield.

Crawford is a long ways away from his days as arguably the best outfielder in baseball. His career hasn’t been the same since he left Boston, but this season figures to give him as good a shot as any.

2015 Recap

Much to the surprise of many, Crawford didn’t have a completely abysmal 2015 season. He triple slashed .265/.304/.403 with four homers and 16 RBIs in only 193 plate appearances, which was the real issue for him. A torn oblique sidelined him from the end of April until the tail end of June, and a hamstring forced him to miss a bit of time in September. It was a familiar story for the 34-year-old outfielder. When healthy, he’s still an extremely solid player with + speed and the ability to be used against lefties and righties, as he doesn’t have a huge split difference between them. Health (and to a lesser extent, defense) is always the knock on Crawford, and for good reason.

2016 Role and Steamers Projections

Crawford was destined for a bench role with a starting outfield of Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig. Many wanted Crawford bought out or traded, but not even the Dodgers were willing to eat more than $43 million over the next two years. Now seems like a good time to remind you that without Crawford, the Dodgers wouldn’t have gotten Adrian Gonzalez for James Loney and two pitching prospects that haven’t panned out at all in the majors.

When it was announced the Dodgers would be without Ethier for 10-14 weeks due to a broken tibia, eyes turned to Crawford, who figures to be the starter in left come opening day. Bill Plunkett of the OC Register reported that a Crawford/Scott Van Slyke platoon was manager Dave Roberts‘ first thought to take over left, but with Enrique Hernandez and Trayce Thompson also available, the Dodgers should have more than enough options to fill in for Ethier.

Steamers projects Crawford to essentially repeat his 2015 season, with a .261/.305/.394 triple slash and five homers in 234 plate appearances. Crawford has never exactly been an OBP machine, but he’s a solid enough outfielder that’s incredibly overpaid. If his contract wasn’t as extreme as it is, nobody would have any issues with what he brings to the table.

What Could Go Wrong?

With Crawford, injuries are always the worst-case scenario. He hasn’t played in more than 120 games in a season since 2011 and always seems to injure himself just when he’s getting hot at the plate. When Crawford is on, he’s a double digit home run threat that can cause havoc on the basepaths, but limited playing time and injuries always seem to derail any momentum he may have.

Crawford is sort of frightening in the field, so when he does start games, he’ll likely be replaced for defense late in the game by either Van Slyke or Thompson (if he makes the roster). Still, when he is in the field, his reads and jumps aren’t the greatest and his arm is a huge liability. He’s solid offensively, but is the worst Dodger outfielder defensively (excluding Alex Guerrero, who probably will remain at third base) and could cost the Dodgers with his glove more than he helps with his bat.

Next: Yasiel Puig Season Preview

What Could Go Right?

It was a while ago, but prime Crawford was one of the biggest threats in baseball. He hasn’t been that sort of threat since 2010, but him coming closer to those numbers would help the Dodgers tremendously.

More realistically, if Crawford can stay healthy through the first 3-4 months of the season, he could easily hold down left until Ethier gets healthy. A .270/.310/.400 triple slash isn’t out of the realm of possibility and would be more than acceptable. Crawford’s speed could be a weapon for a Dodger team that lacked in the stolen base department last season, and while his on-base skills aren’t that of a leadoff hitter, Crawford’s best case scenario is being a quality bat in the lineup while hopefully being not too much of a liability defensively. Dreaming a little higher, a healthy, productive Crawford could increase his trade value a bit and maybe make him appealing to a team with a hole in left (Angels, Indians). With Guerrero already taking up a spot on the bench, it would be best for the Dodgers to not have two unmovable players taking up roster space and while I’d much rather Crawford stick around, he could be the easier one to move if all goes right.