Carl Crawford's 2012 season came to an inauspicious end yesterday as the Boston Red Sox announced the left fielder will undergo Tommy John Surgery to reconstruct his left elbow. Crawford's season was already abbreviated due to injury, as he only appeared in 31 games and finished with a 282 batting average, 3 home runs and 19 runs batted in.
For Crawford, this is a second season of disappointment, after signing a contract with the Red Sox in the winter of 2010 that will earn him 142 million over seven seasons. He frustrated Red Sox fans in 2011 with subpar production, highlighted by a 255 batting average and lackadaisical play in left field which can be summed up by his fielding error in the last game of the season against the Baltimore Orioles. That error allowed the winning run to score and effectively ended any chance the Red Sox had of making the postseason.
The frustration regarding Crawford from Red Sox fans is sure to continue well into the 2013 season. In all probability he will miss spring training and the beginning of the regular season, because of the time it will take him to completely recover from the surgery. This puts Crawford in the same position he was in at the start of the 2012 season when he was recovering from a wrist injury. With the Red Sox almost certain to miss the postseason for the second straight year, their fan base is going to have little sympathy for Crawford when he returns to the field next season.
While Crawford thus far has been a disappointment as a member of the Red Sox, he is not the reason for the team's failure to field a playoff team in 2011 & 2012. The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of Theo Epstein, whose bad decisions in regard to signing free agents, go beyond Crawford to include Daisuke Matsuzaka (6 years 52 million), John Lackey (5 years 82 million) and Bobby Jenks (2 years 12 million). Like Crawford, these players were signed to expensive contracts by Epstein and presented as cornerstones to future championship teams, but ended up producing minimal results on the baseball field.
Epstein relinquished his duties with the Red Sox after the 2011 season to take over management of the Chicago Cubs and Ben Cherington was hired to replace him as Red Sox General Manager. This leaves Cherington responsible for fixing the mess left by his predecessor, which will not be an easy job. Cherington won't have to deal with the contract of Matsuzaka who is a free agent, or Jenks who was released in early July, but he will in all likelihood have to live with the contracts of Crawford and Lackey. It is almost impossible to envision a scenario where another Major League team would be willing to take on either player given their age and health situations.
This means the only realistic option for Cherington at the moment in regard to Crawford and Lackey is to cross his fingers and hope the two players return from injury and live up to expectation. That outcome doesn't seem feasible and it is unrealistic to expect either player will help the Red Sox reach the playoffs in the years ahead. However, when this period of Red Sox history is recalled, it should be Theo Epstein who is remembered as the person responsible for the Red Sox failure and not the most celebrated free agent signing of the era Carl Crawford.