- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
In Carl Crawford's final two seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays, he hit a cumulative .306 and averaged 17 home runs, 79 RBIs, 103 runs scored and 54 stolen bases. He also missed a total of 14 games. I thought Crawford was likely to be a tad overrated after signing with the Boston Red Sox, for real life and fantasy, but I never imagined this: In his first two years with the Red Sox, Crawford hit .260 and played in a total of 161 games, with just 14 home runs and 23 steals.
We speak in past tense because Crawford's 2012 campaign is finished, and it's certainly possible some of his 2013 regular season will be compromised as well. He's scheduled for Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow later this week, and it, uh, takes more than a few weeks to heal from that. Crawford has not only been a major disappointment on the field since signing a $142 million deal, but the Red Sox and fantasy owners certainly seem to be looking at more issues next year. How did this happen, and how do fantasy owners -- the Red Sox are another issue -- avoid this in the future?
The truth is it's nearly impossible to portend danger like this when filling fantasy rosters. I was more skeptical about Crawford for this season than most, as he entered the campaign already injured and all we got from him was 31 games. He didn't exactly star in those games, either. I don't believe in players needing a change of scenery to get back on track, not when they're 31 and have a long track record of success. This isn't the pressure of playing in a major media market, either. The guy was hurt. He's still hurt. However, he never had a track record for being brittle.
ESPN Stats & Info recently ran through a list of injuries to members of the $100 million club, and it's quite startling. My take isn't to worry about players earning exorbitant financial windfalls, and in this case most of the players aren't on the verge of retirement, either. Joey Votto and Troy Tulowitzki aren't too old to earn back first-round status -- neither is Crawford, for that matter -- and it wasn't their wallets that got them hurt.
Crawford will not show up among my initial top 30 outfielders for 2013. While he showed up at No. 68 in ESPN's average live draft results for this season, he purposely missed my top 100. That said, this hardly means Crawford can't be a late-round sleeper or bargain selection in the future, and I'd caution those in keeper/dynasty formats from simply sending him packing, too. In fact, oddly enough, now is the time someone like Crawford can become valuable in those setups. Perhaps your keeper league still allows trading in late August. A year ago, I traded for Adam Dunn in a deep league, just in case he convinced me the following spring he was ready to resume normal numbers. It turns out he did. In another league, I scooped up Jake Peavy, and that has worked out, too. I hope this theory works for players not on the Chicago White Sox!
The recovery time for non-pitchers undergoing Tommy John surgery is not the same as for pitchers. Perhaps Crawford is fully healed for spring training and hits a ton in March games, but that's likely to send his value soaring, which is generally a cause for concern, a sign to let others overpay. In dynasty/keeper formats, owners should always think about the future, and this includes in 2014. This used to be a very special, talented player. Hopefully the Red Sox and fantasy owners see return on their considerable investment in 2014.
As for other Red Sox hitters, I have a few thoughts:
• I recently added catcher Ryan Lavarnway in a deep league, but I don't expect a high batting average or regular playing time. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a prime example of someone owned in fantasy leagues because of season stats, not recent trends. He's hitting .195 with only three home runs since the All-Star break. Move on. Lavarnway deserves a chance to show what he can do.
• Adrian Gonzalez is hitting .369 since the All-Star break, with nine home runs and 40 RBIs. Yes, he was disappointing in the first half, but he's fine now. He'll probably end up in the 20-30 range in my 2013 rankings.
• Dustin Pedroia has been dealing with a thumb problem for, quite literally, months. He'll be in that same 20-30 range in my ranks as well, at worst. Just look at his 2011 numbers. He can do that again when healthy.
• Will Middlebrooks stopped hitting after the Kevin Youkilis trade, which wasn't surprising. I view Middlebrooks as a future 25-homer guy who hits around .260. Perhaps he'll knock in more runs than most third basemen, thanks to the options ahead of him in the lineup, but I view him as a borderline top-10 third baseman, in part because of his poor walk/strikeout ratio.
• Jacoby Ellsbury is going to be a huge bargain in 2013 drafts, because his 2012 numbers won't be special. Ellsbury is supposedly dealing with a mysterious leg situation, as manager Bobby Valentine has mentioned, or his injured shoulder is still a problem. Regardless, he's not hitting much. I don't expect 30/30 next year, but 20/40 is possible.
• David Ortiz was supposed to return from his DL stint more than a week ago, and now I'm starting to wonder if neither player nor team is in much of a hurry for him to resume his incredibly productive season. Sure, he might come back within a week, but if his sore Achilles acts up again even once, why risk using him at all? Why would he risk it? Ortiz is again a pending free agent, but he has a 1.023 OPS, which currently leads baseball. I'd think Ortiz would love to take the top OPS in baseball into contract negotiations.
Eric Karabell lays out his fantasy expectations for Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia and other Red Sox hitters for the rest of this season and beyond.