If the last few weeks of negotiations tell us anything, it’s to not expect baseball any time soon. That gives us plenty of time to dust off the content you’ve all been clamoring for. That’s right, it’s time for... another trade target post!
Today brings latest installation in our shortstop stopgap series. We’ve profiled the likes of Andrelton Simmons, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, Paul DeJong, José Iglesias. Today, I’d like to look at J.P. Crawford of the Mariners, a player who in 2021 flashed upside that raises his ceiling higher than the aforementioned quartet.
2021 Statistics: 160 games, 687 PA, .273/.338/.376, nine HR, 54 RBI, 89 runs, 8.4% BB%, 16.6% K%, 103 wRC+, zero OAA, 3.1 fWAR
2022 Contract Status: Entering second year of arbitration eligibility, projected to earn $4.5 million. Scheduled to reach free agency after 2024 season.
I’m just gonna be upfront in saying a trade for Crawford has little chance of happening, so this is all likely a hypothetical exercise. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto unequivocally stated earlier this offseason that Seattle saw Crawford as their shortstop of the future, despite their reported interest in other star free agent infielders prior to the lockout. However, this is Dipoto we’re talking about, so no trade proposal is out of the realm of possibility. Let’s look at the player the Yankees would be getting should Dealin’ Dipoto renege on his promise.
Crawford was drafted by the Phillies 16th overall in the 2013 MLB Draft and was traded alongside Carlos Santana to the Mariners for Jean Segura, James Pazos, and Juan Nicasio. He is coming off easily his best big league campaign, one in which he was worth over three wins and finally began to fulfill some of his promise as a former top prospect.
He was above-average offensively according to wRC+ for the first time in his career, driven largely by improved discipline at the dish. He struck out only 16.6 percent of the time after striking out in almost 23 percent of plate appearances across his first three years in the majors. Overall, he placed in the 77th percentile in strikeout rate, 87th percentile in chase rate, and 93rd percentile in whiff rate.
That said, there’s still an awful lot of room for improvement on the offensive side for the sixth-year pro. He’s always struggled to make meaningful contact, most recently sitting in the sixth percentile in barrel rate and eighth percentile in hard hit rate and exit velocity. He also suffered from an affliction which Yankees know all too well: not swinging at strikes.
Crawford was worth -26 runs against pitches over the heart of the plate — fourth-worst among all qualified batters in 2021 — with a disproportionate amount of that negative value coming from taking pitches. Crawford is known as one of the more patient hitters in the game — he saw 4.07 pitches per plate appearance, 19th-most in the AL — but this is a case where his patience came back to bite him. Given his high contact rates when he does swing, Crawford could see his production rise simply by getting more aggressive at the plate.
It’s on the fielding side where Crawford would really help the Yankees. He won the 2020 Gold Glove Award at short and has graded out positively across the last two seasons by DRS, UZR, and OAA. He’s not quite in that elite tier of fielding shortstops, but he’s certainly an upgrade over any of the Yankees’ in-house options.
Though I qualified this analysis by citing the unlikelihood of Crawford getting dealt, there were some reports after Dipoto’s remarks that suggest Crawford’s untouchability may not be so ironclad. Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times reported that the Mariners could look to add both Kris Bryant and Trevor Story when the lockout ends, though Dipoto did preempt this interest when he maintained that any infield additions would be moved to accommodate Crawford remaining at short. Additionally, Mariners top shortstop prospect Noelvi Marte broke out in A-Ball last season, though he is not expected to arrive at the majors for another couple years. And so, we have a few cases that at first seem to create an infield logjam, but upon closer inspection do not threaten to displace Crawford from short.
I’m not holding my breath for the Yankees to trade for J.P. Crawford. The majority of signs point to him being at the heart of the Mariners’ long term plans. However, with Dipoto at the helm, you have to be ready for a trade at any time. It couldn’t hurt for the Yankees to at least check in. With three more years of team control and possibly an offensive breakout with a few minor tweaks, Crawford could be the most enticing of the shortstop stopgap options.