, pub-3283090343984743, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0 Forever Giant Heads to St. Louis
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Forever Giant Heads to St. Louis

Brandon Crawford
D. Ross Cameron-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cardinals signed Brandon Crawford to a one-year, $2 million deal earlier this week, the first thing that popped into my mind was a two-word hashtag. I figured it wouldn’t be long before the Giants’ social media accounts would send out the same thing they always post in response to the departure of a franchise icon: #ForeverGiant.

Of course, #ForeverGiant is a public relations gimmick, a way for the organization to soften the blow for fans who are sad to see one of their favorite players retire or, worse, wearing another team’s uniform. Yet in the case of Crawford, who grew up a Giants fan in the Bay Area and who became the franchise’s all-time leader in games played at shortstop, those two words actually rang true. They weren’t a ploy; they were a promise.

That’s why Crawford’s leaving San Francisco is sad for many Giants fans and weird for the rest of us. But moving on from something and getting over it are not the same thing. It was time for the Giants to move on from Crawford, to let him go somewhere else, even if it wasn’t an easy decision.

(Somehow, Crawford might not be the final core member from the 2014 Giants World Series team to play for them. Earlier this month, the team signed Pablo Sandoval to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training.)

As Grant Brisbee noted in his column about the signing, Giants fans are sure to be particularly frustrated that Crawford signed with “the Midwest Dodgers.” That said, St. Louis is the perfect spot for him at this stage of his career.

The Cardinals entered the winter coming off their worst season in three decades, needing to upgrade their starting pitching and fill the leadership void that doomed the clubhouse last year following the retirements of Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols. St. Louis signed a trio of established right-handers — AL Cy Young runner up Sonny Gray, Lance Lynn, and Kyle Gibson — to improve the rotation, and added veteran infielder Matt Carpenter, who spent his first 11 years with the Cardinals, to handle leadership duties. Crawford will fill a similar role.

A three-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, Crawford, now 37, is no longer an everyday player, but the Cardinals don’t need him to be. Instead, he will be the backup shortstop and mentor their rookie starter and top prospect Masyn Winn, who ranks no. 25 on our Top 100 Prospects list.

“So it was something that we had been thinking about just to make sure that we had some depth there,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said of the Crawford signing. “But also bringing in someone with his résumé and what he’s been able to accomplish, we think he’ll be a great resource for Masyn as he continues to develop. Let’s be very clear, though: This is Masyn’s job.”

Backup shortstop became a more pressing need for St. Louis as the offseason wore on and it became apparent that Tommy Edman, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right wrist in October, might not be ready to play by Opening Day. Projected to be the starting center fielder upon his return, Edman was also going to be the team’s backup shortstop before the Crawford signing.

Injuries and age have caught up to Crawford. After landing on the injured list just twice in his first 11 seasons, he missed 31 days of the 2022 season with knee inflammation, and last year, four separate injuries cost him a combined 49 days, according to Baseball Prospectus. In 93 games last season, he slashed .194/.273/.314 with a 63 wRC+ and 0.4 WAR.

Still, it wasn’t so long ago that Crawford was at the top of his game. In 2021, he slashed .298/.373/.522 with 24 home runs, a 140 wRC+, 6.3 WAR, and finished fourth in the NL MVP voting. The Cardinals hope some of that is still left in him, though from their backup shortstop they would surely be content with his production in 2022, when he batted .231/.308/.344 with an 88 wRC+ and 2.2 WAR in 118 games. That’s about what our Depth Charts project from him, though in far less playing time: a .238/.310/.379 slash with an 89 wRC+ and 0.5 WAR in 189 PA.

It’s worth mentioning that, had they brought him back, Crawford would have handled similar duties with the Giants, who are planning to start prospect Marco Luciano at shortstop this season. The difference is that Winn is a better prospect than Luciano, who despite his tantalizing raw power is far from a sure thing. Here’s what Eric Longenhagen and Tess Taruskin said about Luciano when they evaluated him in their post from last week on the relevant prospects who did not make this year’s Top 100:

Luciano is in “Everson Pereira Purgatory” as far as we’re concerned. The muscular 22-year-old has plus-plus power, but he’s only truly dangerous in the very middle of the zone. He ran a 64% contact rate last year. If he could play short, that might be okay given how much power he has, but Luciano’s defense isn’t consistent enough to consider him a likely shortstop. He has the arm, but his range and hands are not as reliable. And there really aren’t many big leaguers, even at shortstop, who make contact at a rate this low. Trevor Story (also not the best shortstop defender, lots of strikeouts) has been a 74% contact hitter. We’ve moved off Lu pretty substantially.

Considering this, it’s fair to ask why the Giants didn’t re-sign Crawford. One reason is that they already had a playing time crunch in their infield without him, as Kyle Kishimoto explained earlier today, and they are reportedly still interested in signing Matt Chapman, which would only make things more crowded. The Giants also have three other younger shortstops in the organization who could back up Luciano: Casey Schmitt, Otto Lopez and Tyler Fitzgerald. But more than that, the decision to let Crawford walk reflects where the team sits relative to the rest of its division. The Cardinals are a playoff contender in the tight, albeit weak, NL Central, where the margin for error is tight. It’s true that having a better backup shortstop probably won’t make much of a difference, but it’s never a bad idea for a contending club to add depth, especially if it thinks that player could have a positive influence on the clubhouse. Meanwhile, we project the Giants to finish fourth in a division with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks, the reigning NL pennant winner. In letting Crawford leave, the Giants can provide a lane for one of the Schmitt-Lopez-Fitzgerald trio to make the Opening Day roster and develop at the big league level. In the long run, that’s probably better for the organization.

Obviously, that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye to a #ForeverGiant who is as beloved as Crawford. Maybe that’s why the Giants deviated from their normal farewell and wished him good luck without using the hashtag.

Hopefully they mean that, because if luck has anything to do with it, they will be able to see Crawford play meaningful September games one more time: On the final weekend of the regular season, the Cardinals come to town and the Bay Area boy comes home.