Carl Crawford signs some autographs at spring training. (Rob Tringali / Getty Images )
Is there a bit of wishful thinking attached to the idea of Carl Crawford as the Dodgers’ everyday left-fielder?
There has to be concern over the long-term health of the outfielder’s left arm. First he had wrist surgery a year ago January, and then seven months later Tommy John surgery on the left elbow.
That’s a lot of bad left wing, particularly for a left-handed hitter still owed $107.8 million, coming off two underperforming seasons (.260 batting, .292 on-base percentages) and tentatively scheduled to be the main leadoff hitter.
Thursday Crawford, who has yet to appear in a spring game, was held out of batting practice and throwing drills because of left forearm tightness. Manager Don Mattingly said it was more a “pause” than a setback, and not uncommon for someone on his comeback path.
“We still look at it like we’ve got plenty of time before opening day,” Mattingly told reporters in Phoenix. “So we’re going to be cautious with him.”
That’s wise, of course, but also has to give the team serious pause. The elbow should ultimately recover, but there’s concern the wrist problem could prove chronic.
Even if Crawford is ready to go by opening day, his last strong season was in 2010. This comeback comes with plenty of risks.
And if he can’t go, or does but struggles?
The Dodgers have no other serious option. Certainly not of the caliber to fill in on a team with a record $230-million payroll and championship ambitions. Since Andre Ethier is also a left-handed hitting outfielder, one of the team’s glaring needs has been for a fourth outfielder who hits right-handed, and ideally could back up a little first base.
The only right-handed hitting outfielders currently on the 40-man roster are Alex Castellanos, Elian Herrera and Yasiel Puig. Herrera is more a utility player who struggled last season after a strong start and Puig is the highly promising but very raw Cuban defector who’s had 82 at-bats in the minors.
Castellanos, 26, is the only semi-real candidate. In five minor-league seasons he’s hit .294, with .365 on-base and .509 slugging percentages. Still, he’s really not in the current plans to be the backup outfielder, let alone be a potential starter if Crawford’s arm proves an ongoing issue.
The only other options are utility players Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker. Hairston is 36 and coming off hip surgery. Schumaker, 33, has spent most of his career at second. Neither is someone the Dodgers really want to play everyday over an extended period.
The Dodgers, of course, currently have three extra starting pitchers, so there remains the possibility of trading one in late spring to obtain a right-handed hitting outfielder. That’s their best option.
Meanwhile, Crawford’s recovery moves forward, with at least some small steps backward. They may be expected, but still make it nervous time for the Dodgers.
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