Can the old Carl Crawford return?

October, 26, 2012
10/26/12
2:08
PM PT
I happened to be seated next to a member of the Angels' front office on a flight back from Orlando the day after the 2010 winter meetings. The man, who no longer works for the team, proceeded to say hello and then sleep for the entirety of the five-hour flight.

The night before had been a rough one for the Angels, who thought they were on the verge of signing lightning-fast outfielder Carl Crawford, their top target, only to see him agree to a seven-year, $142 million deal with the Boston Red Sox.

In retrospect, it was a rough night for Crawford, too. Perhaps -- just perhaps -- August represented a rare fresh start for Crawford, who was liberated via a blockbuster trade from the crushing pressure in Boston, and could see his talents blossom once again in the Dodgers' outfield. On a beautiful fall day in Southern California, it was hard not to see it that way.

Then again, it's still four or five months away from Crawford's next opportunity to prove he can again be the player he was.

Crawford admitted Friday, during his first trip to Los Angeles as a Dodger, that he may have had his priorities somewhat skewed when he was comparing offers that winter. He said it had nothing to do with a preference for the East Coast and everything to do with maximizing his wealth.

"I got caught up in chasing the big contract, there's no doubt about it," Crawford said.

The Dodgers' August trade with the Red Sox was the perfect scenario to free Crawford from a regrettable decision. The Dodgers, desperate to recapture their fans' faith, weren't afraid to take on a bad contract -- or two -- and the Red Sox needed a reboot. Crawford, recovering from elbow surgery back in Houston, said he didn't fully believe it had happened until two or three weeks had passed.

Crawford will be the X factor when we judge that trade years from now. If he can be anywhere near as dynamic as he was with the Tampa Bay Rays from 2002 to 2010, when he led the league in triples and stolen bases almost every year, it might end up working out just fine. Does he still have it in him?

He won't turn 32 until next August, so there's no reason why he couldn't still have it. On the other hand, he has a chronic wrist injury that affects him when he swings a bat and crops up periodically over a season. His body has taken its share of abuse. He's coming off the biggest surgery baseball players undergo, the reconstruction of his left elbow.

And, just because he moved coasts, people will still know all about his financial business. The pressure of that contract isn't necessarily going to disappear just because he's somewhere else. Just ask Vernon Wells.

The Dodgers are hoping he'll feel more at ease. In fact, they're counting on it.

"This kid a couple years ago was one of the most highly sought free agents in baseball, for a lot of reasons," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "He's a little bit removed from that, but it's not like he's in his late 30s or early 40s and the sun is setting. He's really, probably, in the prime of his career.

Sometimes, you need a fresh start, a different environment to give you a chance."

Crawford has that now, a second chance, something few of us are guaranteed.

 

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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