There's a whole lot to like about Carl Crawford's game. He can hit, as his .302/.356/.485 line shows. He has stolen 38 bases (47 attempts) and his defense is tremendous. He has a higher UZR/150 than any qualified major leaguer, not that most fans or scouts need statistical confirmation that Crawford's play in left field is excellent. And Crawford, who turned 29 yesterday, will likely play in 140 or more games for the seventh time in eight seasons this year.
Critics might suggest that his speed is likely to fade, point to his relatively low walk rate and claim that he's having a career year, but nearly half the teams in baseball could have interest in the four-time All-Star when he hits free agency this winter despite any perceived question marks. So let's speculate on some potential suitors, with teams' 2011 payroll commitments in parentheses:
- Yankees ($141.6MM) – Hey, Brett Gardner, Nick Swisher and Curtis Granderson are nice players, but are they enough to prevent the Yanks from pursuing Crawford? GM Brian Cashman, who pursued Cliff Lee, Dan Haren and Adam Dunn before the trade deadline, likes elite players and the Yankees can afford them.
- Red Sox ($94.1MM) – Here's another team that can afford big-time players. The Red Sox have Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew under team control next year plus an option for David Ortiz. They can also call on Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald or prospects like Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish. Those players may stand between the Red Sox and Crawford, but let's not rule Boston out.
- Angels ($92.5MM) – Peter Gammons suggested last month that signing Crawford will be the Angels' top priority this winter. They figure to be strong bidders.
- Rays ($16.3MM) – The Rays are lowering payroll in 2011 and it will be difficult for them to pay Crawford market value unless they compromise the rest of their roster. Tampa Bay does not appear to be a serious contender to sign Crawford, but they could get creative and keep him.
- Blue Jays ($35.5MM) – The Blue Jays have outfielders Vernon Wells, Travis Snider and Jose Bautista, but they could move the latter to third base to make room for Crawford. Adam Lind could be playing first base in 2011, which would open up the DH spot. Crawford knows as well as anyone that the AL East is a tough place to win, so he's not likely to give the Jays any discounts.
- White Sox ($73.4MM) – Let's not rule the White Sox out, even though their entire outfield (Juan Pierre, Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin) is under team control in 2011.
- Tigers ($54.2MM) – The Tigers have lots of money coming off the books and Crawford could be a fit in spacious Comerica Park.
- Braves ($58.2MM) – The Braves have Nate McLouth, Melky Cabrera, Matt Diaz and Jason Heyward under team control, but they showed interest in outfielders at the trade deadline, so it wouldn't be surprising to see them pursue Crawford.
- Nationals ($22.4MM) – Josh Willingham has become a fixture in left field, but the Nats have pursued free agents aggressively, bidding on Mark Teixeira and signing Jason Marquis, Ivan Rodriguez and Matt Capps.
- Padres ($1.1MM) – Imagine Crawford and Tony Gwynn Jr. (second among all qualified major leaguers in UZR/150) patrolling Petco Park – I'm sure Padres GM Jed Hoyer has. Unlike some of the teams above, the Padres have committed a ridiculously low amount to their 2011 payroll, so they could surprise people and pursue Crawford.
- Giants ($74MM) – The Giants also showed interest in outfielders leading up to the trade deadline, so they might see Crawford as a potential long-term solution in left.
- Dodgers ($49.2MM) – Manny Ramirez's contract will be coming off the books, so the Dodgers could look to replace him with Crawford. That would give the Dodgers a star-powered outfield, but until their ownership situation becomes more stable, the team won't necessarily be able to make a nine-figure commitment to any free agent.
- Reds ($36.1MM) – The Reds are by no means the favorite to sign Crawford, but GM Walt Jocketty should have some payroll flexibility this winter.