Star shortstops abound in the 2021-22 free agent market, but of all the shortstops slated to hit the open market this winter, Brandon Crawford leads the way in fWAR. In fact, Crawford’s 1.6 fWAR ranks fourth among all shortstops in baseball, as the longtime Giants fixture is enjoying a career year at age 34. Crawford is hitting .256/.336/.543 with 11 homers in 146 plate appearances, with a 138 wRC+ and 144 OPS+ that would both easily be new personal bests if Crawford can keep it going throughout the 2021 season.
Between his unexpectedly strong bat and his still-solid glove, Crawford has been a big part of the Giants’ success to this point. Now in his 11th season in the Bay Area, Crawford “would definitely love to finish my career here with the Giants,” he told Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. However, “there haven’t been any talks or anything like that. I’m focused on winning the game each night and playing my best throughout the years. These things will fall into place.”
It is still early in the season, of course, but there appears to be some stability in Crawford’s underlying metrics. He ranks in the 90th percentile of all hitters in barrel rate (14.9%), and his hard-hit ball numbers have been on the rise over the last two seasons. Crawford’s .353 xwOBA is above average, and not far below his .372 wOBA.
Crawford told Slusser that the Giants’ coaching staff made some changes to his batting stance and his swing, in an attempt to “keep my swing more on plane for a longer time,” Crawford said. “So you’re able to hit the fastball but then if you’re a little bit out front, you’re able to stay on plane with the baseball a little bit longer and still drive an offspeed pitch.” The result is that Crawford has been crushing four-seam fastballs this season, and he’s generally succeeded against all types of pitches except some below-average numbers against curveballs.
Crawford is in the final season of a six-year, $75MM extension signed in November 2015. For a while, it seemed like this contract was becoming an albatross, as he posted below-average offensive numbers from 2017-19 and even his glovework started to drop off in 2018 and 2019. This season, however, the Giants have gotten quite a bit of production from not only Crawford, but all of the other high-priced veterans (Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Johnny Cueto, and Buster Posey) who all seemed to be a decline phase, though Crawford and Belt also hit well in 2020.
It creates an interesting dynamic for Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, whose quiet rebuild of the team is already starting to bear fruit a bit early, as the Giants are 28-19 in Zaidi’s third season running the front office. Crawford and Belt are free agents and the Giants hold club options on Posey and Cueto for 2022, so the expectation has been that San Francisco would have a ton of salary coming off the books this winter, and plenty of room to spend on some higher-priced upgrades.
While it’s unlikely that all four veterans are back at Oracle Park next season, it stands to reason that the Giants might have interest in retaining at least one of these familiar faces going forward. Slusser writes that Crawford would “certainly consider a hometown-discount type deal,” which could make sense given that Crawford is both a local product (from nearby Mountain View, California) and because he has been so open about being a Giant for life. While there haven’t been any contract talks thus far, Zaidi and GM Scott Harris could be taking a wait-and-see approach with Crawford’s hot start.
If Crawford is open to a below-market contract, that could certainly help his chances of a new deal with the team. Top prospect Marco Luciano is a looming factor, but Luciano is currently in Single-A and doesn’t turn 20 until September, so he still might be a couple of years away from the big leagues. It’s certainly possible to consider a scenario where the Giants re-sign Crawford for another year or two as a bridge to Luciano as the shortstop of the future.