I'm not wild about the contract. Crawford's coming off his best season, and probably won't ever enjoy another quite as good. Seven years is a long time; $142 million is a lot of money.
I'm not worried about the particular nature of his skills. It's long been said that speed doesn't age well; that players who rely on speed don't age well.
I don't believe that's true. I believe that Bill James -- who, perhaps not coincidentally, works for the Red Sox -- made a convincing case, some years ago, that it's not true. But I can't find that article.
Of course, it's absolutely true that players lose speed as they get older. But players with great speed when they're young usually still have good speed well into their 30s. Rickey Henderson, Lou Brock, Willie Wilson, Joe Morgan, Davey Lopes ... all of these fast young players aged quite well.*
* One of my all-time favorite stats ... When Davey Lopes was 40, and playing just part-time for the Cubs, he stole 47 bases and was caught four times. Nobody else has stolen more than 37 bases in a season when 40 or older. Let alone with that sort of success rate.
Right now, Crawford is great on the bases and great in left field, largely because he's one of the fastest players in the game. Five years from now, he'll probably still be fast, and he'll probably still be a fine left fielder and a good baserunner.
Crawford's OBP, though? Yeah, that might be a problem. Crawford's on-base percentage in the past five seasons, as he approached and entered his peak, was .350 on the nose. We wouldn't expect him to do much better or worse over the next five seasons, except for maybe a little bump from playing all those games in Fenway Park (but that's hardly a plus, as almost anyone the Red Sox might acquire would get the same bump).
Which is to say, the Red Sox can probably count on four or five seasons of the Carl Crawford we've come to know and love. He'll reach base reasonably often, pop the occasional over, and run all over the field making plays and stealing bases. It's not hard to imagine his OBP slipping, though, in the last two or three seasons of this seven-season contract. And if Crawford's OBP slips below .340, he probably won't be worth what the Sox are paying him.
What's odd about all this is Theo Epstein's frequent expressions of distaste for contracts running more than three or four seasons. But they gave J.D. Drew five years, then John Lackey, too. The Drew contract has worked out decently for them -- with one more season to go -- while Lackey's deal is off to a shaky start. Like Drew and Lackey when they signed with the Red Sox, Crawford is an excellent player but something less than a household name.
Perhaps this is just the new paradigm, seven-year deals for players who Little Leaguers don't dream about. Just seems a year or two too long, to me.