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Crawford to Correa

Clumsily processing the end of an era, and the beginning of new one

Arizona Diamondbacks v San Francisco Giants Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I don’t like Carlos Correa’s style at shortstop.

This might seem harsh, highly subjective, and a pretty arbitrary critique levied at a platinum glove winner and the San Francisco Giants newest free agent signing, but I figured every relationship needs to be based on honesty.

13 years is a long time—it’s almost double the duration of the average marriage in the United States—and as a fan of the San Francisco Giants, I feel like I just married Carlos Correa and I want it to last. I want to get this right.

So yes, Mr. Correa, I’m not sold on your style. It’s just not smooth! Please take my transparency as a gesture of hope and toast to many fruitful years to come.

Check out this reel (on MLB’s Film Room!) of routine 6-3 ground balls fielded by both the incumbent Brandon Crawford and the Giants shortstop-elect, Correa, to prove my point.

Correa is too tall. He’s 6’4’’ and wants everyone to know it: he picks a grounder like someone who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. Yeah, he has a great arm but the posture on the throw to first is as rigid as a cardboard box. Nor does he have Crawford’s hair—which is his real-est problem. Any shortstop trying to fly across the infield gaps needs a head cape! The flow knows. Crawford’s hair contains multitudes. It’s an oily, fibrous totem of his San Francisco tenure: the pitfalls and peaks, the gold gloves and biffed routine balls, the cool demeanor, the wry smile. It’s suggestive and coy and way too familiar. It’s Neil Young’s sneering and perfectly balanced lyric manifest: “Doesn’t mean that much to me to mean that much to you.”

But I know you know this isn’t really about the hair...

2023 will be Brandon Crawford’s 13th year as a Giant. 13 years is a long time, and frankly, anything pre-B.C. feels like the Stone Age. I’ve gotten pretty used to how things work on the left side of the San Francisco infield this past decade and gut reaction: I really don’t like the idea of our Shortstop playing anything other than shortstop. It’s not the savviest take but an honest one. Crawford, the franchise leader in games played at the position, shifting to second or sliding to third to make room for Correa will be an adjustment for some fans. It certainly won’t be pain-free for him either.

We all get old, but athletes have to do it under a magnifying glass. The moment pros turn 35, it’s like they drink from the false Grail in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”: their hair shoots gray, their skin shrivels on the bone and eyeballs dry out and they decompose into a pile of ash within seconds. The shift from veteran presence to dead weight can be swift, merciless. The body fails. The scrutiny increases. The pride takes a hit. Crawford will be 36 by the start of the 2023 season and I bet he doesn’t need anyone reminding him of that fact. I’m sure signing Correa feels a little like Farhan Zaidi handing him the wrong grail.

But there’s another way to frame this signing for Crawford as an opportunity for a graceful denouement rather than the body-instantly-reduced-to-dust thing.

He’s not too far gone from a 6+ WAR season (out-doing Correa’s mark by a not-arbitrary 0.1 according to Fangraphs), and one could argue last year’s numbers were an inflated regression due to a bad knee. Crawford isn’t collateral damage, but might even be buoyed by Correa’s presence by having more at-bats in favorable match-ups and more frequent rest from a demanding position. And as a skilled defender, Crawford’s shift from short to third or second is probably akin to Paul McCartney shifting from guitar to bass after Stu Sutcliffe left the band. The Beatles did alright under the new lineup and I’m sure the Giants infield will benefit too.

I don’t want to come off as the resident curmudgeon harping about Brandon Crawford in a “Hooray Carlos Correa!” post.

I’m very aware how necessary it was for the Giants to sign our new shortstop. He’s the type of player who pays back dividends in quality of play, clubhouse leadership, and fan investment, which was relatively low after last season. Excuse me as I mount my high-horse, but the ownership and front office is morally obligated to shell-out, especially when it is so clearly not a sacrifice for them but a pretty smart business investment.

Also, he can hit the ball really hard.

But again, there is that base/sentimental caveman part of me who wanted Crawford to be the Giants shortstop forever: the hometown kid, the homegrown talent, the one, and only, Shortstop. Every sappy sports idiot wants that for their sports team and if you’re lucky enough to get it, you don’t want it to end.

Now I’m processing the forthcoming end. I’m lashing out at change—tense with the underlying dread of something different. Good news mixed with bad news mixed with uncertainty.

This might feel very “un-StatCast-y”, “un-Sabermetrical”, but I’m just very aware right now of the practical effect the shift from Crawford to Correa will have on my life. Over 12 years, Crawford had 6,346 opportunities to contribute defensively to a play in a Giants baseball game. I participated with my eyes and ears and spirit in the majority of those occurrences. The time I spend watching and listening and thinking about this team is substantial. Now multiply substantial by 13 years…

How many times am I going to watch Carlos Correa field a grounder at short? Will I ever get used to it? Will he eventually smooth out a bit, ease up his delivery? Will he ever grow out his hair?

These are silly worries—newlywed anxieties.