Brandon Crawford is going to St. Louis. Why he was never going to be on the 2024 Giants

Here’s a picture of Juan Marichal in a Dodgers uniform, posing with John Roseboro. Here’s a picture of Orel Hershiser on the cover of Giants Magazine. Here’s a story about the hundreds and hundreds of All-Stars and Hall of Famers who ended their careers in places you don’t remember. Brandon Crawford on the Cardinals isn’t going to be the weirdest of these examples, and it barely cracks the 50th percentile of weird.

It’s still pretty weird.

Crawford isn’t just going to any ol’ team; he’s going to the Midwest Dodgers, a franchise that conjures up all sorts of complicated history, from José Oquendo and Ozzie Smith taking cheap swings at Will Clark to Matt Holliday barreling into Marco Scutaro, which ended with the heavens crying and Scutaro drinking the salty tears. There’s Travis Ishikawa HITS ONE INTO RIGHT and Jeffrey Leonard’s one flap down, which infuriated the typically polite and well-mannered fans of that particular cow town.

And now there’s a non-zero chance that the next Cardinals-Giants National League Championship Series matchup will feature Crawford in a red uniform. Pretty much zero, but definitely non-zero. And those odds should scare you.


Cardinals signing 3-time All-Star Brandon Crawford

Add into this the timing of the move, which came to light the same day that the Giants signed Nick Ahmed to a minor-league deal and invited him to spring training. Ahmed is a defensive specialist with one fewer Gold Glove than Crawford, and he was one of the few players with at least 150 at-bats to have a lower OPS than Crawford last season. And while the Giants would probably prefer a left-handed hitting backup shortstop to Marco Luciano in a perfect world, Ahmed bats right-handed.

So it’s reasonable for a Giants fan to ask, “Why didn’t they just sign Crawford?” While I offered a shorter answer here, it’s a fair question that deserves a more in-depth answer.

Start with the platonic ideal for a backup infielder on a normal team. If you have Cal Ripken, Jr. and Alan Trammell on the same roster, great, but nobody does. It’s hard enough to find a shortstop who can hit and field enough to be a starter, so it’s nearly impossible to find a backup who can do both. You gotta pick one, and the all-glove/no-bat profile is a lot easier to find than the reverse.

Your first step is to make sure that the backup shortstop can do at least something better than a lot of his peers. Ahmed can still pick it, even if he’s not going to win another Gold Glove. But this description also applies to Crawford. So this isn’t the answer.

What’s just as important for a team looking for a backup shortstop, however, is what they don’t do. Specifically, you don’t want to think about them. You want the starting shortstop to be so important that you don’t have to think about the backup. Not until it’s time to give the starter some rest, at least.

Everyone would think about Brandon Crawford. Fans would ask why he isn’t getting as many at-bats. Luciano would think about him a lot if he slumped for a week. He complements Luciano on paper, but not in reality. A team looking to transition fully to one of their better offensive prospects over the last decade wants to make that a clean transition. It gets weird for the rookie when the team has one foot in both eras, especially if the rookie struggles on either side of the ball.

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The Giants don’t want Marco Luciano looking over his shoulder all season. (Sergio Estrada / USA Today)

Imagine a scenario where Luciano tweaks something early in the season. Nothing serious, but Crawford starts for a bit. He also happens to be scalding hot. At the plate, I mean. Don’t scoff, as even in his lost 2023 offensive season, he had two-week stretches where he looked like the 2021 MVP candidate. Luciano comes back, and his job is waiting for him, but he struggles to adjust to the major-league pitching, as 22-year-old toolsy players are wont to do. Now what? What if he gets a little better, but it’s a slow climb, and Crawford doesn’t do anything in a small sample to ruin the numbers he put up in that two-week stretch.

If that happens with Nick Ahmed, you can point at him and say, “That’s Nick Ahmed. I’m not falling for his tricks.” But if it happens with Crawford, well, it gets complicated. It gets brought up on KNBR. It becomes something that everyone is thinking about, even though the whole point of a backup shortstop is that you don’t want to think of them.

There’s another scenario in which Luciano is struggling, and the backup shortstop is exactly what you’re expecting, but there’s someone doing great things in Triple A. There have been three home runs for the Giants in the Cactus League so far, and the two longest were hit by candidates for the backup shortstop gig — Otto Lopez and Tyler Fitzgerald. If one or both of them are feasting in Triple-A Sacramento, and it makes sense to swap Luciano for one of them, do they leapfrog Crawford and take over the job? Or does the guy who’s already had a set of keys for over a decade get another chance to do his thing? You might think the decision is easy, but I’m not sure that Bob Melvin or the clubhouse would.

You also don’t want to think about your backup shortstop because he’s hurt. He’s already the guy in a glass case. And while Crawford had one of the healthiest careers that a baseball player could hope for, he missed a lot of time last season. Ahmed missed a lot of time with shoulder problems in 2022, so it’s not as if he’s, ahem, the Cal Ripken, Jr. of shortstops, but he’s almost three years younger than Crawford, which makes a difference. It’s not a fraction as much of a consideration as the part where Luciano shouldn’t have to play in the shadow of a franchise icon, but it’s still a consideration.

And, for all sorts of reasons, you don’t want to think about your backup shortstop if he’s not working out. There shouldn’t be handwringing that goes along with a decision about an all-glove shortstop if his glove isn’t as good as hoped, or if his bat is even worse than the typical backup shortstop, and there are available players who are obvious improvements. You should be able to replace the backup shortstop quietly in the middle of the night, like Seinfeld’s dad, without anybody noticing. There has never been a Giants fan who drove up from Chowchilla to see Nick Ahmed. He would be the Bill Hall of Orlando Cabreras if he didn’t work out. Releasing Brandon Crawford, though, would be a big, uncomfortable deal for everyone involved.

Ideally, Ahmed wouldn’t even make the roster. Not because it’s impossible to think he can still play baseball — he had back-to-back four-win seasons just a few years ago — but because one of the other candidates is doing good things, and they’re already on the 40-man roster. If Crawford were back, it would be on a major-league deal to begin with, so the roster crunch would already be a little crunchier.

It’s depressing to process that Brandon Crawford’s Giants career is over. And it’s more than a little weird that he’ll be eating pizza on a cracker and wearing colors that just don’t suit him at all. There were a couple of reasons to think it might work with the Giants, though, and a few dozen reasons to think it had no chance. Depressing and weird aren’t antonyms for practical.

(Top photo of Crawford: Lon Horwedel / USA Today)

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