Brandon Crawford Wins Gold Glove, Gets Really Rich

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Miguel Tejada was a terrible Giant. Don’t get me wrong, he was a great player for the A’s and, later, the Orioles, and he was solid with the Astros for a couple of years. In his brief time with the Giants, though, he just flat out blew. By the time the Giants signed him as a cheap stopgap shortstop solution in 2011, Tejada’s power had vanished and his range in the field was a joke. The 69 OPS+ that he posted as a Giant was the worst of his career. On top of that, he had the PED stink on him (he’d later be suspended for over 100 games for PED-related shenanigans). Tejada was basically cooked before his Giants career even started.

Despite having no real immediate shortstop options (which is why Tejada was signed in the first place) the Giants finally jettisoned Tejada in September of that year. In his place, they handed the shortstop keys to a slick-fielding non-prospect named Brandon Crawford, and gave him two simple orders: field your position well, and don’t mess yourself with the bat in your hands. Basically, keep the position warm until the front office can swing a trade and find someone better for 2012. Needless to say, no one saw the second coming of Cal Ripken.

Welp, now it’s the year 2015, and Crawford just finished the season leading all major league shortstops in fWAR. How did he do in Baseball Reference’s version of WAR? Oh yeah, he led all shortstops in that, too. By far. He also won his first Gold Glove, and probably not his last, what with Andrelton Simmons relocating to Los Angeles’s less-evil, American League franchise. Just a remarkable season for a player who has become, amazingly, not just a Giants stalwart but one of the best overall players in the National League.

Crawford’s first Gold Glove is cause for celebration and is well-deserved, but it’s not, in my opinion, the most impressive part of his season. When Crawford first arrived in the majors, fans felt that there was a pretty good chance that Crawford had a Gold Glove in him at some point. With good range and one of the best arms at the position in the business, Crawford was Gold Glove material from day one. The fielding part of his game was never in dispute.

No, the accomplishment that would have blown my mind three years ago is the Silver Slugger Award that Crawford won this year. Crawford earned this by leading all NL shortstops in home runs, RBIs, doubles, and slugging percentage. That’s a pretty amazing feat considering that at one point most of us figured that Crawford’s baseline was a .230 hitter who might fluke his way to a ten homer season one year. Crawford’s home run output has gone from four in 2012 to 21 in 2015. Pretty incredible, and pretty unexpected, to say the least.

Here is a snippet of the player comment for Crawford in the 2012 Baseball Prospectus annual (following Crawford’s rookie year):

Unlikely to ever stray too far above replacement level, but a good bet to play a half-dozen seasons, and about as good now as he’s ever going to get.

This coming off of a season where Crawford’s batting line was .204/.288/.296. They weren’t exactly bullish on his major league prospects, clearly. Obviously that was very wrong, but don’t go picking on BP, because everybody thought this about Crawford back then. At least, everybody who wasn’t a rose-colored-glasses Giants apologist thought this. I certainly did. His minor league stats screamed utility guy, and there wasn’t exactly a long line of scouts waiting to tell the statheads that the numbers had him all wrong.

Whatever the reason for Crawford’s adjustments, be it good ol’ fashioned hard work or the unrecognized genius of hitting coach Hensley Meulens, Crawford’s development into an All-Star-caliber baseball player has been one of the more pleasant surprises in recent Giants history. Where once it seemed like anything the team got from his bat was gravy, Crawford is now a legitimate offensive asset.

The Giants rewarded Crawford for his big season by handing him his inevitable contract extension, worth $75 million over six years. The deal buys out Crawford’s final two seasons of arbitration and locks him up through his age-34 season. It means he’ll probably (hopefully) retire a Giant, short of some offensive decline stint with the Rays at age 35 or something.

Crawford will be making $15 million in each of the final four seasons of the extension. That may seem like a lot to alarmists who think the sky is falling every time baseball player contracts rise, but $15 million in 2021 dollars won’t be the same as $15 million in 2015 dollars. The Giants will probably get equal value here, at worst.

Crawford will probably lose some range and he might not hit 20 home runs again, but have you seen the state of the shortstop position in the NL in the year 2015? There’s a very, very good chance BCraw will be worth much more than the $75 million he’ll be making over the next six seasons. For starters, he’ll make $5.8 million next year and will almost certainly be worth three times that amount.

All this because Miguel Tejada sucked one time. Securing Crawford’s services is the first step toward locking up this insanely good, homegrown infield the Giants have developed and riding it to another championship (or two). Next up: Brandon Belt.

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