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Is Crawford destined to wear pinstripes?
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The two became friends through a financial advisor after the Rays drafted Crawford out of high school in 1999.
Now, Sabathia would like Crawford to be his Yankees teammate, too.
“I joke around with him all the time about that — all the time,” Sabathia says, laughing. “I told him I’ve got an extra room in the house, whatever he needs.”
Sabathia also is tight with Mariners lefty Cliff Lee, another potential free agent, but no way the Yankees can sign both, right?
“Who knows?” Sabathia responds. “Who ever thought me, Tex and A.J. would show up in the same year, too?”
The Yankees will need to re-sign shortstop Derek Jeter and closer Mariano Rivera at the end of the season, either re-sign or replace right-hander Javier Vazquez, then outbid the competition for Crawford or outfielder Jayson Werth and/or Lee.
Accomplishing all of that would be a lot to ask, particularly when the Sons of Steinbrenner are trying to show fiscal restraint, at least by Yankee standards.
But before he goes ...
Until then, he just wants to help the Rays win.
“I’ve just got to go play,” Crawford says. “We’ve got a good team. I don’t feel like I have to go outside what I do, try to have this big monster year.”
The natural tendency for some potential free agents is to press, and Crawford concedes, “All this is new for me . . . something I’ve got to get used to.”
Rays manager Joe Maddon isn’t worried.
“I’ve read some of the things that he has said to this point,” Maddon says. “He’s been handling it very well.
“He doesn’t dodge it. He answers it. But he also talks about being with the Rays, wanting to go with the World Series with us. I don’t think he’s going to vary from that.” — Ken Rosenthal
But let’s face it, Crawford very well could be facing his future team when the Yankees visit the Rays on Saturday to kick off the 15th season of MLB on FOX (3:10 p.m. ET).
Crawford, 28, is just about the perfect free agent at this moment in the game’s evolution.
His makeup and work ethic are considered impeccable. His speed is highly coveted in an era of stricter steroid testing. His defense in left field — the best in the game, according to advanced metrics — is especially valued at a time when teams are measuring defense more efficiently and emphasizing run prevention to a greater extent.
The subplot is that Crawford plays for the Rays, the poor stepchild of the AL East. In fact, Crawford is the best player in franchise history. But through little fault of his own, there will be no Joe Mauer story here.
Manager Joe Maddon dreams of the Rays winning the World Series and somehow keeping Crawford.
The Series, maybe.
Crawford, forget it.
Tiger Woods stands a better chance of being named "Husband of the Year" than the Rays re-signing Crawford to, say, an eight-year, $120 million deal.
Owner Stuart Sternberg already has announced that the team’s payroll will drop from $70 million-plus this season to under $60 million next season. The Rays might even trade Crawford and two other potential free agents — first baseman Carlos Pena and closer Rafael Soriano — if they fall out of contention.
Virtually everyone in the game empathizes with the Rays’ low-revenue plight, but the team not only is in the wrong ballpark, it also might be in the wrong market.
Few clubs are more fun to watch, yet Wednesday night against the Orioles, the crowd of 15,220 at Tropicana Field was the second smallest of the day, ahead of only Kansas City among the 15 games played.
Meanwhile, the list of potential suitors for Crawford is staggering:
Yankees: The addition of Crawford would enable the Yankees to integrate another younger, athletic star into their older mix. The team then could trade Brett Gardner or make him one of the game’s better fourth outfielders.
Red Sox: Power could be a priority; designated hitter David Ortiz and catcher Victor Martinez are potential free agents. Yet, the Sox also need to address their outfield; left fielder Jacoby Ellsbury could be moved for a hitter such as Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, and center fielder Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew are free agents after 2011.
Angels: Crawford fits manager Mike Scioscia’s aggressive offensive style perhaps better than any player in the game. The Angels, like the Red Sox, are unsettled in their outfield long-term; designated hitter Hideki Matsui is signed for one year and right fielder Bobby Abreu and left fielder Juan Rivera are free agents after 2011.
White Sox: The team generally does not compete for players at the top of the market, but general manager Ken Williams long has coveted Crawford, and manager Ozzie Guillen would view him as ideal for his new, speed-oriented approach.
Astros: Crawford is from Houston, but the Astros probably cannot move the contract of left fielder Carlos Lee, who is owed $18.5 million in both 2011 and ’12. Crawford in center over Michael Bourn? Perhaps, but baseball people view Crawford as better in left. He has made only 11 appearances in center since 2004.
Rangers: The team’s new ownership would score a coup by bringing Crawford home to Texas. The Rangers might prefer a slugger – they cannot rely on right fielder Josh Hamilton and Vladimir Guerrero is on a one-year contract. Crawford’s defense, though, would help address the club’s never-ending quest for better run prevention.
Braves: When was the last time they were truly settled in left field? With Chipper Jones in 2002-03? Ryan Klesko in the late 1990s? The Braves no longer are big spenders, but imagine Crawford and Jason Heyward in the same outfield.
Giants: They declined to bid seriously for the best offensive free agents last offseason, Matt Holliday and Jason Bay. Another season of inferior run production could force a shift in direction, and Crawford’s game is well-suited for spacious AT&T Park.
Divorce Court Dodgers: The team’s biggest need is starting pitching, but Manny Ramirez’s $20 million salary will be off the books after this season. An outfield of Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier would be electric – provided that Frank and Jamie McCourt were willing to accept less luxurious lifestyles.
The Mariners, Tigers and Reds also could be options for Crawford. So might the Cubs, if they could trade left fielder Alfonso Soriano or right fielder Kosuke Fukudome (lots of luck on both counts).
Crawford, for his part, isn’t sitting at his locker pondering all of his free-agent possibilities. But he is aware that next offseason, he will be Baseball’s Most Wanted.
“I can’t wait to see how it’s going to play out,” Crawford says. “It should be exciting, really exciting. I’m just going to try to embrace it all, soak it all in and enjoy the moment.”
Just be careful, Carl: A 6-foot-7, 290-pound shark known as CC Sabathia is circling.