There is a certain logic to why the Washington Nationals splurged on Jayson Werth, even if it is a faulty logic. But what was the logic of the Boston Red Sox snagging Carl Crawford for seven years at $142 million? The guy is good, but is he that good?

Unlike the the Nationals, who were a team acting upon a desperate desire just to be relevant, the Red Sox were already a very good team, fresh off of netting Adrian Gonzalez. Additionally, it stands to reason that Boston benefits from a certain wisdom that comes through having a history of winning and being rich.

One would also think that the Red Sox front office learned their lesson the hard way with J.D. Drew.

Like the Nationals signing Werth, Boston had external motives behind the Crawford deal beyond the player himself. For the Red Sox it’s always about keeping up with New York. The Yankees may not have wanted Crawford, but this now puts all of the pressure on them to sign Cliff Lee, lest they walk away from this winter without signing even one of the free agent heavyweights. Boston also finished a lackluster third in the AL East last season, and the Crawford deal was exactly the kind of macho power move that the front office needed to placate a rabid fan base. The Red Sox were World Series contenders before Crawford. With him, they’re the early favorites.

But looking beyond how these external motives may have raised the price on Crawford, it is interesting to note that he might actually live up to his huge worth.

$142 million over seven years might seem high for a guy who, over the past three seasons has a .803 OPS. This, compared to Boston’s big bats: Gonzalez (.910), Kevin Youkilis (.975), Dustin Pedroia (.860), and David Ortiz (.899). But that number is still better than J.D. Drew’s .793.

Incidentally, it is important to mention Drew. For one, Crawford will live in the shadow of J.D.’s five-year $70 million contract. For one, this deal is widely considered Theo Epstein’s biggest free agency blunder, and Crawford’s worth will always judged against the merits of the Drew deal. However Crawford is also linked to J.D. because Crawford’s value truly projects best if switches from left field to right, Drew’s position.

God bless him, J.D. will be gone after 2011, however it is worth having Crawford in right starting this year. Playing left at Fenway takes away Crawford’s speed, whereas Fenway’s right field is among the more spacious in all of baseball. Crawford is widely regarded as a premier defensive outfielder. It would behoove Boston to maximize his talents by playing him in right rather than neutralizing his speed in left.

As for said speed on the base paths? It figures Crawford’s stolen base totals have seen their best days; Boston’s offense does not favor base stealing, neither in style or substance. However Crawford’s speed will still be utilized, albeit in less statistically appreciated ways, such as going first to third on an opposite field blooper by Youkilis or second to home on a ground ball up the middle by Ortiz.

But it all comes back to his fielding. FanGraphs Dave Cameron points to Crawford’s WAR (Wins Above Replacement) value as being the best indicator of just how good he really is. Crawford’s WAR over the past two seasons is sixth-best in all of baseball. Cameron argues that if “you buy into Crawford being an elite defender, then he is worth this contract, and maybe even a little bit more.”

Crawford has landed his big payday, but what will be interesting to see in the future is the price put on top-notch outfield defense. Seattle gave Franklin Gutierrez, arguably the best defensive outfielder in the game, four years at $20.5 million a team option for a fifth year. Gutierrez does not compare to Crawford at the dish (only a .666 OPS) however he isn’t terrible with the bat, and he has speed and obviously compares to Crawford in the field. Would Gutierrez stand to make more now, in the wake of Crawford’s mega-deal? Not that it matters for Gutierrez anymore, but would $10 million a year be out of the question for a player of his caliber?

The price put on slick fielding is still up for grabs, however it seems safe to say that it isn’t an undervalued commodity anymore in light of Carl Crawford, who just might actually live up to his big deal, even if he never hits 20 home runs. Will the same be said of Jayson Werth?

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