Brandon Crawford has been a staple of the Giants’ roster for years. Having grown up in the Bay Area a fan of the club, he was drafted by them in 2008 and then made his major league debut in 2011. He has been the regular shortstop in San Francisco for over a decade now, a tenure that includes a pair of World Series titles in 2012 and 2014. That will continue for at least one more season, with 2023 being the final guaranteed season on his current contract.
There were times this offseason when it seemed like that was going to change. The Giants heavily pursued Carlos Correa and agreed to a 13-year, $350MM deal that would have seen him take over the position, with Crawford getting bumped to third base. Back in December, Crawford reacted to the news by providing some comments via text message to Andrew Baggarly of The Athletic, seeming accepting of the situation though not exactly enthused. “He is a shortstop and since the signing the other day, I’ve been told that that’s where he’ll stay, so that puts me in a much different situation than I’ve ever been faced with in professional baseball,” Crawford said. “So, the rest of this off-season, spring training, and during the season, I will be working my hardest to be the best I can be at a different position and help us get back to the postseason.”
However, Correa’s free agency still had a few surprising twists remaining. The Giants grew concerned by the health of Correa’s right ankle when going through his physical examination and the deal ultimately fell through. Correa and his reps then worked out a new 12-year deal with the Mets, though that was also scuttled when the Mets found themselves similarly concerned by the ankle. Correa wound up returning to the Twins on a much more modest six-year deal, though with vesting options that can extend it by four further seasons. All of that will now be a footnote in Giants’ history, with the Crawford era at shortstop continuing uninterrupted into 2023.
The club held its Fan Fest event this weekend, with Crawford among the players in attendance, and he spoke to members of the media such as Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle and Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area. “For about a week, I was mentally preparing myself for the challenges of playing a position like that,” he said. “I wouldn’t say I was necessarily looking forward to it, but at the same time, I was maybe excited for a new challenge. I was watching some Nolan Arenado film. It is what it is at this point. Now I don’t have to worry about that.”
The Giants are heading into 2023 with the 36-year-old Crawford a key piece of their roster, as both he and the club will be looking to bounce back from a rough season. In 2021, Crawford hit .298/.373/.522 for a wRC+ of 138, indicating he was 38% better than the league average hitter. He also got great marks for his glovework and stole 11 bases, leading to a tally of 6.3 wins above replacement in the eyes of FanGraphs. That was the highest such mark of his career and helped the Giants to a franchise high win total of 107. But 2022 saw Crawford deal with injuries and slump to .231/.308/.344 and a wRC+ of 80 as the club had an 81-81 season. He thinks he’s well positioned for a better showing in 2023, indicating he believes both his health and the lockout contributed to his woes last year.
“It was really hard to be able to get on a field and take batting practice or do long toss or do some of the ground ball work that I would [usually] do at one of our facilities,” Crawford said of last year’s lockout. “This year, I’ve been able to do all that and hit with our coaches, which is another big thing that I wasn’t able to do last year. They can see where my swing is at and go from there. Also, it’s good having our strength coach and trainers so that if anything pops up, they’re able to have eyes on me and I can work with them.” He also added: “I think I started getting into some bad habits without having our coaches seeing some things and picking up those things that I was creating.
On the health front, Crawford hit the injured list in June of last year due to left knee inflammation, but returned after a minimum 10-day stint. However, the issue persisted and he was back on the IL in mid-July and would miss about three weeks. “That second IL stint was a little bit longer and being able to play a couple of rehab games to make sure that it was feeling better, I think that was a lot smarter and we probably should have done that the first time. But I felt a lot better after that.”
The Giants brought in many free agents for 2023, including Mitch Haniger, Michael Conforto, Sean Manaea, Ross Stripling and Taylor Rogers, but a healthy and effective Crawford could be one of the most significant boosts for the club this season. As mentioned, it will be the final year on the extension Crawford signed in August of 2021 and decisions will have to be made about the years ahead. “There’s definitely been some thought,” Crawford says. “I wouldn’t say I have an answer one way or the other on what I want to do. There’s definitely been some talk and I’ve thought about it for sure, but yeah, I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer right now.”