Brandon Crawford reacts to the Carlos Correa signing, comes to terms with a position change
Brandon Crawford has played 1,525 games in his major league career. He has fielded 12,872 innings. He’s come to the plate on the balls of his feet for hundreds of thousands of deliveries, ready to pounce or lunge or charge or sprint at any type of batted ball.
In each of those moments, he was a shortstop.
You don’t become a four-time Gold Glove shortstop through athleticism alone. Pre-pitch positioning and intuition can be just as important. The best shortstops show an artistic creativity to make plays. Crawford has used so many of those gifts to become the greatest shortstop in Giants history.
If one of Crawford’s gifts stands out above the rest, it’s his spatial awareness. It is an innate ability to visualize the movements required for a game. It is the coordination to perform these movements.
It means understanding where your body is in space in relation to other objects or people.
And now one of those people is Carlos Correa.
Less than 15 minutes after news broke Tuesday night that the Giants and Correa had agreed to a franchise-changing 13-year, $350 million deal, Crawford received a call from club president Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe Kapler . They informed Crawford what he had already figured out: that Correa would be the Giants’ daily shortstop. It will be up to Crawford to accept a change of position for the first time in his career.
Up until that phone call, there had been no discussion between Crawford and anyone on the Giants front office or coaching staff about the possibility of playing another position.
It took Crawford a few days to process his situation before reaching out to him the athlete Leave a Comment.
“With the signing of a player as good as Carlos, our team has definitely improved a lot,” Crawford said via text message. “He’s been one of the better players in the league for years and it’s obviously exciting to bring a player of his caliber to San Francisco. Aside from that, he’s a shortstop and since signing the other day I’ve been told he’s going to stay there, so that puts me in a very different situation than I’ve ever been in professional baseball.
“So for the rest of this off-season, spring training and throughout the season, I will do my best to be the best I can be at another position and help us get back into the post-season.”
It’s a transition Crawford admits he’s been reluctant to make. Shortstops always see themselves as shortstops. Center fielders always see themselves as center fielders. Moving to a less stressful position can be more than an assault on their pride. It can be an affront to their identity.
For Crawford, who debuted in 2011 and has started as shortstop for 11 straight seasons on Opening Day, it is a point of extreme pride that only five players in major league history have played more defensive games exclusively as shortstop. You’ve heard of them: Derek Jeter (2,674), Luis Aparicio (2,581), Ozzie Smith (2,511), Elvis Andrus (1,906) and JJ Hardy (1,544).
Crawford, who turns 36 in January, had hoped to remain on that list until the end of his career, which could coincide with his contract expiring after next season. Instead, he’ll settle for one less claim in a career that still contains a ridiculous amount of really, really cool stuff. He was the first major league player in 41 years to score seven goals in a game. He shares the franchise single-game RBI record (8) with Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda and Joc Pederson. His first major league hit was a grand slam. He hit another Grand Slam to win a National League wildcard game and quieten a noisy Pittsburgh baseball park so quiet you could hear Allegheny’s water slapping the bridge abutments. He grew up in Pleasanton with dreams of becoming shortstop for the San Francisco Giants, and he’s been exactly what he is for a dozen years. And, of course, he was an integral part of winning two World Series championships.
Your nightly Brandon Crawford Gold Glove play 🤌 pic.twitter.com/RzwD3PWxyY
— SF Giants on NBCS (@NBCSGiants) September 28, 2022
None of that legacy will be diminished just because he’ll start taking Grounder at third or second base or wherever he may be on the infield in relation to Correa. Crawford still fits into the Giants roster. Crawford declined to elaborate on what his role might be or what position would represent the easiest transition, saying he had received a rough outline but talks were still in the early stages. Kapler also declined comment until Correa’s signing becomes official in a news conference on Tuesday.
But it’s easy to spot the potential fits. Crawford could be a left-handed complement at third base for JD Davis, Wilmer Flores or David Villar. He could do the same at second base along with Thairo Estrada. He was able to fill the urgent need for a versatile, left-handed hitting infielder, especially now that Tommy La Stella’s defensive limitations with his crackdown on infield shifts will become unconcealable.
And while Correa is expected to play exclusively at shortstop (incidentally, he has up to 881 games and 7,666 2/3 innings without ever appearing in any other position), he occasionally needs a day off. For more than a decade, the Giants never had an accomplished backup shortstop behind Crawford. Now they have the most successful replacement shortstop in the major leagues.
The Giants signed Carlos Correa. You have questions, we have answers.
But nothing is guaranteed. If Crawford does anywhere near as well as he did in 2021, when he had 141 OPS+ and finished fourth in NL MVP picks, he’ll be in the lineup almost every day – presumably starting with the opener at Yankee Stadium when his brother- in-law, Gerrit Cole, is expected to be on the hill for New York. However, if Crawford tussles like last season when he dropped to 85 OPS+ and a nagging knee injury hurt his defensive stats, the Giants are under no obligation to provide him with a satisfactory solution.
Crawford’s knee improved in the second half of last season after a stint on the injury list and the difference was felt on the field. On the Giants’ penultimate road trip to Arizona and Colorado, Crawford racked up a non-stop highlight role of diving plays, off-balance throws, brilliant reactions and sprinting catches.
“I mean, I always see myself as a stopover for my entire career,” Crawford said at the time. “Well, there’s a bit of pride in that, I guess. I got called up my rookie year because I could come up straight away and defend in the big leagues. That’s valuable, even if it’s not always seen that way.”
Even if Crawford hadn’t gone back last season, he might have found himself in the same current situation. Other shortstops in the free agent market this winter might have been better suited to play a different position in the short term, but Correa represented the Giants’ best match because of his relative youth, offensive abilities, and leadership abilities. When Aaron Judge turned down the Giants’ $350 million offer to return to the Yankees, it was obvious where the organization was headed. They needed a franchise star and there was only one player left who fit the criteria.
Crawford was among the people in the court to judge. He met Judge at the Gotham Club in Oracle Park and did his best to sell the city and organization to the reigning American League MVP. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Crawford was not involved or consulted when the organization turned its focus to Correa. All Crawford had to say was what Zaidi told reporters at the GM meetings in Las Vegas last month when asked if he thought Crawford would be the club’s shortstop on opening day.
“Yes, absolutely,” Zaidi said on Nov. 10. “Right now. Yes. Obviously, Brandon Crawford is the best shortstop in franchise history. He’s done a really good job for us over the past few years and last year, especially in the second half when he played really well defensively.”
But Zaidi added a qualifier: “I don’t think anything will stop us from chasing guys who have traditionally been shortstops.”
Correa’s identity as a shortstop is as solid as Crawford’s. He has accumulated 70 defensive runs saved over the course of his career. He won the Platinum Glove for the American League’s Best Defensive Player of 2021. He’s as safe as any defender in the game. Metrics rank him as the most efficient shortstop in the major leagues at making an out when diving for a ball. He’s both a throwback player and the quintessential modern major league player who’s not only committed to analytics, but… gladly explains to the players why they should hug her too.
But his time will come too – just as it has for Cal Ripken and Dave Concepcion and just as it is coming for Crawford now. Correa will be Crawford’s age in eight years. Until then, it’s up to whoever runs the Giants in 2031 to figure out where to play against Correa. He has just five years and $135 million left to complete his contract.
The Giants view Correa as a cornerstone of the franchise and an influential player whose front-end contributions will far outweigh what he will receive in his decline years. But it will be hard to imagine him ending his Giants career as the greatest shortstop in franchise history. The bar is pretty high.
In the meantime, it’ll be fun to watch what happens next season when, for the first time, there’s a groundball on the left and two towering defenders slide to shrink every inch of the 5.5 hole. Great players are always happy to play with great players, even if they can’t share the same space. So Crawford will look on the bright side as much as possible.
“Maybe,” he said, adding a shrug emoji to his message, “I can finally get an inning on the mound.”
(Photo: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)