By Tommy Rancel //
Despite the news that the New York Yankees do not plan to pursue Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth this offseason, the pair of outfielders are the most sought-out position players on the open market. But who deserves top billing?
According to Scott Boras, the agent of Werth, the Phillies’ outfielder is the cream of the crop. It is normally good practice to treat agent speak as such, but Boras isn’t too far off.
Over the past three seasons, Werth has averaged a slash line of .279/.376/.513 with 29 home runs and 84 RBI. Only five players other than Werth can say they’ve averaged at least those numbers over the same time frame (min. 1800 plate appearances). Those players are: Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Mark Teixeira, and Joey Votto.
This season he joined Pujols, Matt Holliday, and Jose Bautista as the only major leaguers with an OPS greater than .920 with a minimum of 650 plate appearances. That’s nice company to keep heading into a rather weak free agent class for position players.
On the other hand, the case can be made that Carl Crawford is not only the better overall player right now, but will be the better value in three to four years.
First, Crawford is younger and more athletic. Although Werth is a decent defender, Crawford is among the best in the league. Despite being the better overall offensive player right now, Werth’s skillset is not as broad as Crawford’s and could decline quicker.
Crawford’s offensive game plays in all types of parks and he has spent his career in the American League. Werth, on the other hand, has enjoyed his success playing in the National League at one of the more hitter-friendly parks. In fact, the gap in his home/road splits has grown even further apart over the past two seasons.
Consider this, the closest statistical player to Crawford at age 28 according to baseball-reference.com is Roberto Clemente. Also consider that Crawford has more career hits, doubles, triples, home runs, RBI, and nearly 10 times as many steals than the legendary Clemente did at the same age, despite just a 22-game difference in career games. While Crawford doesn’t have the arm of Clemente, he is regarded as one of the best defenders in the game. Imagine if Clemente hit the open market going into to what some consider his prime; that could be what we have here.
Everyone knows that Crawford’s main asset is speed. That said, in recent seasons he has taken a few more walks. He also showed more power this season with a career-high 62 extra-base hits. Although Tropicana Field has taken a toll on his legs, he has avoided major injury to those valuable wheels.
Looking at short-term value, Werth is likely the better offensive player for 2011 – even though Crawford is the superior fantasy commodity given his prodigious speed. Werth’s power potential is much greater, and it’s not just tied to balls leaving the yard. He led the league with 46 doubles in 2010 and could rack up even more in a place like Fenway Park. However, if you’re looking for a keeper between the two, Crawford is the one. He will continue to offer tremendous value in steals, as well as providing an above-average number of extra-base hits for the next few years. In conjunction with steals and extra bases, He should score a lot of runs in a good lineup as well.
For more on Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, and other MLB Free Agents check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office.