In Peter Abraham’s Friday notes from the Boston Globe’s Red Sox blog, he mentions Carl Crawford isn’t the only new big money free agent having a poor start to the season. In the first year of his $126 million contract, Jayson Werth is hitting .233/.310/.444 with the Nationals. Crawford is doing significantly worse than that (a putrid .160/.202/.234 line through Thursday’s games) but as has been pointed out relentlessly here and elsewhere, it’s early yet.
Often times it’s said the pressure of trying to live up to a big new contract can be overwhelming which, as a person who will never see a million dollars let alone one hundred forty two times that, I can understand intellectually if not viscerally. To my knowledge there is no great scientific way to figure out if his new contract is having an negative impact on Crawford or not, but I thought I’d take a look at some other similar players over the past decade and see if they also struggled initially after signing big deals. The always useful Cot’s Contracts has a list of baseball’s largest contracts ever signed. For the record, Crawford’s deal comes in eleventh, behind Miguel Cabrera and just ahead of Todd Helton.
Looking down the list, there are four position players in the prime of their careers who signed big money free agents to join a new team. Here’s an entirely unscientific look at them and how they did to begin their deal.
Alex Rodriguez ($252 million, 2001-10)
After the 2000 season, Alex Rodriguez signed what was at the time the biggest contract in baseball to join the Texas Rangers (it has since been eclipsed by Alex Rodriguez). During the 2001 season, Rodriguez’s first in Texas and his age 25 season, he hit .318/.399/.622. It was comparable on the surface to his final year in Seattle, where he hit .316/.420/.606. Whether he had any trouble vaulting to the top of MLB’s salary structure or not is unknown, but it certainly didn’t affect his hitting. He hit .312/.426/.602 with seven homers in April of ’01, his first month in Texas.
Manny Ramirez ($160 million, 2001-08)
A 28 year old Ramirez hit an other-worldly .351/.457/.697 during his final season in Cleveland. On an unadjusted basis, it was the best year of his career. He joined Boston for the ’01 campaign and hit .306/.405/.609. for the Red Sox. He didn’t have any trouble out of the box either, hitting a Ted Williams-esque .408/.482/.735 in April. No problem here.
Mark Teixeira ($180 million, 2009-16)
Teixeira joined the Yankees for his age 29 season after hitting a combined .308/.410/.552 for Atlanta and Anaheim in ’08. His first year in New York went very similarly, as he hit .292/.383/.565. He did get off to a relatively slow start with the Yankees though, with a .738 OPS that April. However, Teixeira is known for slow starts. He posted a .797 OPS in April for the Braves the previous season and had a .559 OPS in April of 2010. His April of ’09 was less than his career average, but was far from his worst April. He could have been negatively impacted by the pressure of signing the new deal, but more likely he was just having his customary lousy April while wearing different clothes.
Jason Giambi ($120 million, 2002-08)
Most of the big money contracts signed by players allow them to remain with their current club long term. But like A-Rod, Teixeria, and Manny, Giambi hadn’t played a game with the team he signed a big money deal with until after the signing. He was coming off an age 30 season that saw him hit .342/.477/.660 for Oakland. (Don’t these look like video game numbers now? Jeez…) He followed that up by hitting an only slightly less ridiculous .314/.435/.598 in his first season in New York. Giambi did have a bit of a rough start his first April in New York. He OPS’d .834, which isn’t bad at all but when you follow that up by OPSing 1.100 over the next three months, it can be called a slow start. It’s possible Giambi experienced some adjustment issues.
None of these guys are good comps for Carl Crawford as baseball players, but they are similar as members of the Enough Money to Choke An Entire Heard Of Cattle With One At A Time Club. The good news for Red Sox fans is all of them, tough start or not, managed to live up to the lofty standards of their contracts.
There is pressure involved after signing a big money contract but there is massive pressure to perform simply through being a professional baseball player at any level. It could be fairly argued that being a 28 year old in AAA is more pressure filled than being in a pennant race. If indeed Crawford has been negatively impacted by the pressure of signing a big money deal, there’s no way of knowing it by looking at his stats. In fact, this April is consistent with his career to date, as Crawford’s worst month throughout his career has been April.
Of course it could really be just about anything that has thrown Crawford off his game, a mechanical issue in his stance, a hidden nagging injury, or fear of giant green walls. What we do know, as much as we can really know anything about baseball players, is that Crawford has a track record of success, big contract or not. If that is what is bothering him, good. He’ll probably get over it sooner rather than later.