Welcome back to Spring Watch, the San Francisco Giants edition. Part one focused on a prized prospect and part two looked at the big position battle to watch out for in camp.
In this third and final part, our attention turns to the longest-tenured Giant and a hometown hero. The last man standing from the 2012 and 2014 World Series champions, likely looking at his final season wearing the orange and black, perhaps even his final season in baseball.
Brandon Crawford: Bounceback by the Bay?
Brandon Crawford, now 36-years-old and in the last year of a two-year $32 million extension, faces some uncertainty in 2023. What version of Crawford are we likely to see? The 2021 MVP candidate who turned back the clock or the 2022 injury-ravaged veteran battling just to be out there on the field?
A short time ago, Crawford faced a different kind of uncertainty, perhaps the most uncertainty he’d experienced in his career to this point. When it looked like superstar free-agent Carlos Correa was headed to San Francisco, Crawford’s tenure as the starting shortstop for over a decade appeared to be over. It was decided that the younger Correa would inherit shortstop duties and Crawford would make the transition to third base, a position he’d never played in his entire major league career.
In fact, Crawford is currently in that rare club of having played one position and one position only for his entire stay in the major leagues. In 1,561 games, he’s not played a single inning away from shortstop, a historic feat.
However, fate conspired to deny us an alternate Giants timeline. Somewhere in the multiverse Crawford was relocated in the infield to accommodate Correa and his $350 million surgically repaired ankle for 13 years. Unless you’ve been living in a darkness retreat like Aaron Rodgers, you know how events played out: the Correa caravan passed through San Francisco and when the dust settled, there was Crawford. Still here, still very much the Giants’ shortstop.
Before the Correa situation went into full meltdown and he was expected to be a Giant, I had already convinced myself that sacrificing Crawford to third base to make room for Correa was the right decision. The pragmatist inside me knew it made sense but my sentimental side still felt unsettled. When everything fell apart and it transpired that Crawford would remain at shortstop, I’ll admit to feeling relieved. Sentimentality emerged victorious and my favourite player could continue his historic journey at the position he had established as his own for 13 years.
I know, sentimentality doesn’t win you ballgames but personally speaking, I’ve never been interested in this game solely for the results. In a sport increasingly dominated by the analysis of every tiny measurement and statistic, I’ve always preferred to focus on the personal stories, the history and the grandeur of the game I love. Guys like Crawford, his talents and his faults, are exactly why I follow baseball with as much enthusiasm as I do. He’s a Mountain View, California native who grew up loving the Giants, attended games at Candlestick, and lived out his dream to play for his boyhood club, winning two World Series in the process. What’s not to love?
Jumping back to the present, what can we expect from Crawford this season? Like many Giants on the 2022 roster, he didn’t enjoy a particularly successful campaign. Injuries limited Crawford to just 118 games, the lowest full-season tally of his career (discounting his 2011 rookie year and pandemic-altered 2020). Inflammation in his right knee resulted in two trips to the injured list and it took a while for Crawford to get over the pain and impact it had on his play. There’s no doubt his swing was bothered by the knee and its subsequent recovery, robbing him of the power he displayed in 2021. His unparalleled range and mobility at shortstop was obviously hindered as well. By September though, he was looking more like the Crawford we know so well, and his defence down the stretch was about as good as it’s ever been.
There were plenty of encouraging moments to signify a healthy Crawford could bounce back in style.
The Giants should be cautious though. They enter 2023 lacking experienced depth in the middle of the infield. The way the current roster is set, the everyday shortstop job will be Crawford’s and his alone. The club would be wise to keep his legs as fresh as possible and Thairo Estrada is currently the only man really expected to spell Crawford when necessary. Time management will be a key factor in Crawford’s productivity and skipper Gabe Kapler will surely be mindful of this.
With Spring Training games about to get underway, we’re edging closer to the start of the 2023 season with every passing day. Provided Crawford remains healthy over the next few weeks, he’ll run out to shortstop on Opening Day, just like he has on every previous Opening Day stretching back to 2012. That kind of longevity and consistency, especially with one team, is remarkable in this day and age.
If this is to be Crawford’s final season in San Francisco, then we must savour every moment, and enjoy one of the club’s most celebrated players whilst we still can.
The Brandon Crawford’s of the world don’t come around very often. Let’s see what the legend has in store for us, one more time.
Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29
Photo credit for featured image by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images.