Crawford's in for '10, but what's next?

Yes, of course the Rays picked up their 2010 option on Carl Crawford. But what does it mean?

Joe Smith:

    Rays executive VP Andrew Friedman said after deciding to pick up Carl Crawford's $10 million option for 2010 that the All-Star leftfielder "is a big part of what we've accomplished and what we will accomplish in the future."

    Friedman knows the big question is "What does future mean?" and while he said "I don't think anyone can answer that," he pointed out that both Crawford and the Rays are "very interested" in discussing a long-term deal that would "keep Carl in a Rays uniform as long as possible." Crawford will be a free agent after the 2010 season if they don't come up with an extension (barring a trade, of course).

    "Both sides are very interested which is a great starting point," Friedman said. "It's safe to say at some point we will have conversations of possibly extending the contract even further. But for right now, obviously this ensures he’s with us in 2010, whether it is this offseason, or the end of next season, we'll certainly do what we can.

Thanks to his usually brilliant defense, Carl Crawford has been worth at least $12 million per season -- and usually quite a bit more than $12 million -- in each of the last six seasons. In 2009, easily his career year, Crawford was worth upwards of $20 million. All of which makes him seem like a bargain for $10 million in 2010. And he's only 28, so figures to be an outstanding player for at least another few years.

Also, as this story points out, Crawford is "the longest-tenured player in Rays history and the franchise's career leader in hits, runs, steals, triples, RBIs and games."

So there are plenty of good reasons to hang on to Crawford.

On the other hand, $10 million is a lot of money to the Rays. And that's nothing compared to what Crawford will be in a position to demand on his next deal, which could be in the range of five years and $75 million (or more, depending on the U.S. economy). Can you see the Rays committing that many dollars to Crawford or any other player while they're still locked into that "ballpark" and annually drawing fewer than two million customers?

Anything's possible, but it doesn't seem real likely.

As much as it might hurt, if the Rays aren't going to re-sign Crawford, they should probably trade him. Yes, they would probably take a short-term hit in the standings, because a) there are no obvious holes in the lineup that might be filled with a trade, and b) neither Matt Joyce nor prospect Desmond Jennings are ready to replace Crawford's production (and it's not likely that either of them ever will quite do that). But between the prospects that would come in a trade and the money that would be saved on Crawford's salary in 2010, a deal would give the front office a great deal of flexibility down the road.

It's a shame that things like this have to happen. In a perfect world, Carl Crawford could spend 20 years with the same club, like George Brett and Robin Yount and Tony Gwynn. But you and me and the players and Major League Baseball have all conspired, however unwittingly, to make such a thing almost impossible. Carl Crawford is just too good, and there are just too many dollars floating around out there. My dollars, and your dollars.

Fortunately for the Rays, they're talented enough and smart enough to win almost as easily without Crawford as with him. Just wait and see.