Carl Lewis had enough speed to win an Olympic long jump gold medal at the age of 35. Jamaican sprinter Merlene Ottey won two silvers at the Atlanta Olympics at the age of 36. Darrell Green and Rod Woodson both mustered up enough speed to play in pro bowls after they turned 35. Ray Allen is still getting it done at 35. Lou Brock stole 118 bases at the age of 35. Brett Butler swiped 41.
So how old will Carl Crawford be in the last year of his recently signed contract? Thirty-Five!
That fact seems to be lost on many who are under the impression that Crawford will soon be eligible for Medicare. Think I’m kidding? Well here is a comment I read the other day …..“I don’t think you pay a speed guy $20 million a year when he’s going to be in his late 30s at the end of his contract.” Late 30’s? Let’s get this straight …. Carl Crawford will turn THIRTY-SIX two months before his contract expires. Not even under the most tortured definition of “late” will CC be in his late 30’s during the 2017 season.
Less you think this is some isolated comment, think again as this line of reasoning is all over the nets. And it is central to the thesis of those who claim Carl Crawford’s contract is an affront to sensibility. To paraphrase, critics argue that speed inarguably fades once a player reaches his 30s, Crawford’s game depends on speed, and Crawford will turn 30 next August, making him vulnerable to considerable and predictable regression over the next seven years.
There are a few problems with this reasoning but one worth mentioning is it doesn’t make any allowances for athletic exceptionalism. And as pointed out above, there are plenty of instances where athletes have carried speed into their mid-thirties and used it to excel. So who is to say Crawford isn’t one of these athletes? After all, he is in great shape. His medicals are clean. You can’t find anyone willing to testify that his work ethic is lacking. He’s lean. And importantly, his athleticism reaches beyond his speed, meaning he is more than just a track guy. So if anything, he strikes me as potential freak. That doesn’t mean that Crawford won’t age over the next seven years. But it does increase the chance Crawford’s speed will still be a weapon in 2017.
That said, I find the following type of analysis to be lacking. I will call it the “straight-line to suckass” analysis. It basically entails looking at Crawford’s 2010 as an outlier, making an adjustment so his “expected” 2011 season is normalized, and then evenly docking his performance each season until 2017. At the end of the exercise, one finds that Crawford will be worth about 25 “wins above replacement” over the life of the contract and he will be the equivalent of Ryan Ludwick at the finish line. By this measure, the Red Sox overpaid Crawford by $30 million dollars and they will be choking on this deal come 2016.
I don’t buy it. I’m not saying such an outcome isn’t POSSIBLE. But I think it is much more likely that Crawford holds his prime for longer than the aforementioned analysis suggests. And while he might not be Carl Lewis at age 35, Crawford should have enough residual speed to support good seasons at the tail of the contract. Net net, Crawford might not be a burner come 2016 but I am confident that he can still steal 25 bases and defend left field. And when you add in some power he might pick up along the way, you have the makings of a very solid player in 2017. Not some cripple who lost his wheels and consequently, lost his game.