For a while there, Carl Crawford was a complete and total wreck. Not just Carl himself, but the situation. The wrong man for the wrong job in the wrong park at the wrong price, from his hitless struggles in spring training right on down to the last play of 2011, it was all going horribly, horribly wrong.
The way 2012 started, things didn't seem to be improving. First came the offseason surgery, then the news he might miss the start of the season, a setback in recovery, and news that he would eventually need Tommy John Surgery.
By this point, resigned to the fact that Crawford was simply not going to prove worth the investment no matter how well he pulled through after all the mess was done with, many Sox fans were frustrated with the organization's approach to the outfielder's injury. If he was going to need Tommy John Surgery one way or another, then just get it over with already. Cutting into his 2013 season for a lost cause seemed ridiculous.
And maybe it was. You can still hold the decision against Ben Cherington and co. even if it didn't end up hurting the Sox. But perhaps the 125 trips to the plate they managed to drag out of him in 2012 proved the difference in shedding him. Was Crawford good? No, certainly not, but he was at least decent. A .333 wOBA, a slightly better stolen base pace, some signs that there might actually still be a baseball player somewhere in there if the injuries could be taken care of--all of this may well have been what convinced the Dodgers to pull the trigger on the deal that got him out of here. If so, then can we really call his season anything other than a success?
For a player who spent less than two years with the Red Sox, it can be argued that Carl Crawford has impacted the organization like few other players before him. While it was ultimately the collapse of 2011 that led to the organizational overhaul that took place over the last offseason, Carl Crawford stands out as something of a catalyst. From 2003 to 2011, the organizational approach had shifted dramatically, going from player development and mining undervalued free agents to signing big names and, when they didn't work out, signing another. John Lackey beget Carl Crawford with a major loss of prospects for Adrian Gonzalez mixed in.
By itself the Gonzalez deal would have been acceptable (it was, of course, celebrated at the time, and rightly so). But with the addition of Crawford and the remaining weight of Lackey, it's easy to see in hindsight how the team had gone too far in one direction. Of course had everything worked out with the Red Sox hoisting a World Series trophy come October, then we'd still have Theo and Terry and who knows what else.
But as tends to be the case, bad process led to bad results. Carl was the worst man for the job, just as Lackey hadn't been the best choice the year before, and while there is plenty of blame to be laid at the feet of the pitching staff, the fact is that without Carl and Lackey dragging the team down both financially and on the field, the Sox probably could have come away without so dramatic a collapse.
Hypothetical history is a very sketchy proposition, but one wonders what would've happened Crawford? Would they have collapsed as dramatically? Would they be World Series winners? Would they have a decent postseason run but come up short? I wonder if Theo would've kept going with the same faulty practices, and if the decline would have simply been that much longer. We're certainly not back to full strength yet--the roster is full of holes, and there's plenty of work to be done before the farm system really provides the full next wave in a year or two. But for all that the last two years have been awful, they've perhaps provided the necessary wake-up call and, miraculously (thanks, Dodgers!) a clearing of the rubble to allow the team to move forward. And while Carl Crawford was not the player we wanted, in the end he may have been the one we needed.