Cashing In

December 9

The biggest prize in baseball’s free agent market is going to Boston. Carl Crawford reportedly agrees to a seven-year, $142 million dollar deal with the Red Sox. That was predictable after Jayson Werth’s 7 and 126 with the Nationals.

The Red Sox have just re-loaded.

With the acquisition of Adrian Gonzalez, their lineup looks something like this for 2011:

Pedroia 2b Crawford lf AGonzalez 1b Youkilis 3b Ortiz DH
Drew rf Saltalamacchia c Lowrie ss Ellsbury cf

Gonzalez will reportedly get a 154 million dollar, seven-year deal sometime during the coming season. So that’s about $300 million worth of ballplayer. Worth it? Probably, shockingly enough.

This is where I repeat my mantra of giving long-term, big dollars only to position players. Especially when they’re of Crawford’s caliber. He will spend the prime of his career in a hitter-friendly park, and the Sox take away a top player from their divisional rivals, the Rays — while also trumping another divisional rival, the Yankees.

The Red Sox still have weaknesses: the bottom half of that lineup doesn’t blow me away, and it’s heavily left-handed, but getting Crawford and Gonzalez vaults the Sox into the “serious contender” category in 2011. They still need bullpen help but they have a terrific starting rotation with Beckett, Lackey, Lester, Dice-K, and Bucholz.

Crawford’s deal should also increase the bidding for the best free agent left, Cliff Lee. This might be bad news for the Rangers. Lee has more leverage now, so if the rival Yankees do bid on him, they’ll probably have to add a year and dollars. They and the Angels have the financial werewithal to meet his demands, and I don’t think the Yankees want to leave the offseason empty-handed.

Here’s a little nugget from MLB Trade Rumors: Crawford is the first player without a 20-home run season to get a nine-figure contract. In the so-called “post-steroid era,” Crawford’s combination of skills are surely valuable: decent power with 19 home runs, a .356 on-base percentage, 47 stolen bases and a Gold Glove. He would have been a tremendous fit for the Giants, but they’ve already increased their payroll to $120 million and he was going to be too rich for their blood.

I will now try to steer away from the Red Sox, since you will learn everything about them, down to the nose hairs, on ESPN. However, I can’t escape the Family of Networks yet. There’s word that ESPN and MLB want to move the Giants’ 2011 season opener from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

That would allow the Giants to unveil their championship banner on March 31st before a game against the Dodgers. Apparently, the Giants would lose their April 11th home game, and after the season-opening celebration, the two teams would head down to L.A. for the regularly-scheduled four-game series.

On one level this seems like a sweet proposition for Giants fans: not only getting the spotlight to unveil the banner, but doing it with the Dodgers ( including Juan Uribe ) in the ballpark, in the process trumping L.A.’s season-opening series — and doing it all before a national audience. This is an entertainment business, and that would be a pretty good show.

On the other hand, it seems silly to re-schedule just one game. Why not simply switch series? That would reduce travel, albeit a short trip to Los Angeles. The one-game plan would inconvenience those who have already bought tickets for April 11th. It’s another sign of how much television can control things.

However, I think fans would be willing to look past that — in fact some fans might make big coin on what will surely be a new hot ticket. It would also give us five days in a row of Giants-Dodgers to start the year, so we’d go through the entire pitching rotation. And let’s face it, as much as we complain about ESPN always showing the Red Sox and Yankees — including the season opener — this is a nice change of pace. There was a time when the Dodgers and Yankees were the greatest rivalry in baseball.

And remember, MLB has already ditched another bad idea — opening in Taiwan. Instead, the Giants at least get a well-deserved spotlight at home. March 31st would be like another parade day.

I’m in.

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