Since the moment Carl Crawford was designated for assignment just over a week ago by the Los Angeles Dodgers, the question was posed, "Is a return to the Rays possible?"
Yes, yes it is very much possible and with the Rays outfield ranks depleted to the level that Jaff Decker is receiving starts every other day, Crawford could very well be back in a Rays uniform. We do not know if the Rays are seriously considering bring back Crawford, all we have is this small blip from Topkin buried in his Saturday column...
If OF Carl Crawford, released last week by the Dodgers, were interested, the Rays would at least talk about a reunion.
... but that's something!
Of course, this is not the same Carl Crawford that slashed .307/.356/.495 and accrued 7.7 total fWAR that would go on to receive a major payday that following free agency with the hated Red Sox.
For years, he was the best player on a small-market team where he couldn't receive the national recognition he so truly deserved. However, since he has moved on, Crawford's career has spiraled downhill with a tumultuous short stint with the Red Sox, and then decent showing in Los Angeles before he finally crashed and burned over the last couple of seasons. Why are the Rays interested in a reunion?
The Case For
From 2003 to 2010, Carl Crawford delighted Rays fans with his excellent play, his incredible speed, and amazing theatrics in the outfield. Any batter that dared to send a pitch anywhere near left field knew there was the danger of the ball being tracked down, whether it be far into foul territory or even shallow center field, Crawford was usually there to make the awe-inspiring catch.
He is a four-time all-star (2009 all-star game MVP), and he followed that with a Sliver Slugger and Gold Glove award in 2010. He has ranked among the league leaders numerous times in batting average, triples, and stolen bases. Carl Crawford was just surpassed by Evan Longoria for the longest tenure in team history, but still holds numerous team records and is near the top of the list for many others.
Also, it's not like Crawford would be coming in to take a starting job. He'd likely be the Rays 5th outfielder and behind Desmond Jennings, but injuries to Kevin Kiermaier, Steven Souza, and Brandon Guyer have made it necessary for the Rays to have a starting outfielder that has started Corey Dickerson, Mikie Mahtook and Jaff Decker over the last week.
Outside of an impressive throw home a few games ago, Jaff Decker's roster place has not been warranted to be much above replacement level.
During his Rays career, Crawford slashed .296/.337/.444 over nine seasons. He also accumulated a total of 419 stolen bases during that tenure, easily the most in franchise history. Since moving on, Crawford's health has been questionable, but his offense has remained fairly consistent with the exception of last year and so far in 2016.
In 2014, he actually had a fWAR of 2.6 for the Dodgers, but a combination of inconsistent playing time and inconsistent injuries have put his value out of focus.
And even though he's been on a downhill slope and nearing the tail end of his career, the Rays could use a veteran outfielder with experience to help fill the voids left by the injuries to the Rays main starters. Having memories of Crawford's better days is just a bonus.
After all, isn't that what baseball is all about, drawing in fans with the nostalgia factor?
The Case Against
Then again, nostalgia is a terrible reason for signing a ballplayer.
If players were signed due to their respective impacts earlier in their career for an organization, you would have rosters filled with former all-stars who were shells of their former selves. Carl Crawford can no longer hit like he once did, he can longer run like he once did, and he can longer field like he once did.
While healthy, Crawford has actually been an above average bat the past few years, but that's the problem as he has rarely been healthy. From 2012 to 2015, Crawford played in just 50% of his team's games, spending time on the disabled list numerous times for various reasons, and then while healthy, he was usually relegated to a bench role/defensive reserve.
In 30 games this year for the Dodgers, Crawford hit .185/.230/.235 and hadn't stolen a single base. However, his speed may not be completely gone, as he did register 10 last year in 69 games.
His defense might have completely unraveled, though, as he's been under league average in the outfield for the past three years in a row and if he comes back to the Trop, I can't imagine the turf will help him any. Over the last two years, Crawford has a combined DRS of -7 and a UZR of -3.5. That's also not to mention his arm -- which was already the weakest part of his game -- has also gone down hill.
If Jaff Decker is replacement level, Crawford is more than likely below that, given his release from the Dodgers.
Jaff Decker is a Quadruple-A outfielder and is only on this team due to the entire starting corps being injured. So far during his severely limited major league play, Decker has been below replacement level, while Crawford for the majority of his career has been well above average -- while he was just barely below league average last season -- so he has pedigree on his side.
So, would Carl Crawford would make the team better than it is currently? Who knows, maybe being back in his old stomping grounds would provide the spark he needs. If he's willing to sign the same type of deal Grady Sizemore did last season, then I'm all for it.
Brad Miller currently possesses Crawford's old digs with the number 13, but still, it would sure be nice to see Carl Crawford roaming the outfielder grounds for the Rays once again and to give him a chance to relive his glory days.