Outfielder Carl Crawford is now a few hours into a 61,000-hour (that's seven years if you don't have an abacus handy), $142 million deal with the Boston Red Sox. The ex-Ray has established himself as a star over the past nine seasons. He can hit for power, both over the fence and into the gaps, and his 409 steals since 2002 are the second-most in baseball.
He is good. But was it worth $142 million for the Red Sox to acquire 29-through-36-year-old Carl Crawford? Was it wise to offer him the 10th-largest annual salary in the history of American sports? To the numbers!
Let's begin with a larger context. These are the nine baseball players who have received contracts at least as large as Crawford's, along with their ages during the years covered:
Alex Rodriguez (ages 25 through 35, ages 32 through 42)
Derek Jeter (ages 26 through 36)
Joe Mauer (ages 27 through 35)
Mark Teixeira (ages 28 through 36)
CC Sabathia (ages 28 through 35)
Manny Ramirez (ages 28 through 36)
Troy Tulowitzki (ages 26 through 36)
Miguel Cabrera (ages 24 through 32)
Todd Helton (ages 27 through 38)
Crawford will turn 30 during the first year of his contract, making him the oldest recipient of such a large contract with the exception of Alex Rodriguez, who had already established himself as one of the game's all-time greatest hitters. However, his contract will end a few months after his 36th birthday, which is just about the norm.
But how can we expect Crawford to perform in his early-to-mid-thirties? Baseball-Reference's similarity score system says that through age 28, of all modern players, Crawford is most similar to Tim Raines and Johnny Damon. This is such a small sample size that it's unfair to Crawford, but just for the record: after age 28, Raines was still productive but not as productive as he used to be, while Damon has remained just about as productive.
It's more important to note that Crawford has remained healthy throughout his career. He was sent to the disabled list in 2008, but it was for a finger injury, which isn't nearly as much of a cause for concern as, say, a knee, shoulder, or hip ailment.
So, we've established that, with respect to other mammoth contracts, Crawford is not too old to receive a deal like this. It also seems as though there's no compelling reason to believe that his production will regress at a greater-than-usual rate. On to the next question: how valuable is Crawford as he stands right now?
The 2010 season was the best of his career in terms of Wins Above Replacement (4.8), OPS (.851), and home runs (19). He's best-known as a base-stealer, and his 47 swipes were consistent with what he's put up throughout his career.
Crawford's 2010 WAR of 4.8 was the 19th-best among position players in the majors. Baseball-Reference's system estimates that his base-running was the equivalent of five runs more valuable than a replacement player's baserunning. Out in center field, Baseball Info Systems estimates that last year, Crawford saved 14 more runs than the average player.
My conclusion is that Crawford's total value isn't something that your average team should pay $20 million a year for -- partially because, as a leadoff man, he doesn't draw as many walks as I wish he would. His selling point, to me, is that he's almost a complete player -- he can hit for power, hit for contact, steal bases, and perform well in the field.
Five years from now, he may very well turn into a different player. He could lose a step on the basepaths and in the field, instead focusing his energy toward developing his already-there power-hitting ability.
For a mid-market team, throwing this sort of contract at Crawford, as enjoyable of a player as he is, would not be a good idea. The Red Sox, though, don't seem concerned with bargains. They've reached a competitive threshold at which they must pay a dime for a nickel, and that's what they're doing.
For more on Crawford and the Sox, check out SB Nation's Red Sox blog, Over the Monster.