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The Realm of Craw

As much as 2022 has been a down year, shortstop is still Brandon Crawford’s territory

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Arizona Diamondbacks Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

In an episode of “The Baseball Bunch” (1981-85), Johnny Bench, the San Diego Chicken and a diverse group of neighborhood kids skip and sing while following a yellow brick around an infield. As they turn past second base, a crack of thunder sounds, the earth starts to quake and the kids recoil in fright as Ozzie Smith emerges from a cloud of smoke, his arms crossed and voice booming: “Stand away all you mere mortals! How dare you enter the magic bounds of Oz?”

The skit serves as an effective scare tactic promoting a healthy fear (and respect) for the mysterious and unforgiving territory between second and third base.

Though Smith lightens up enough to pass on some valuable fundamental skills at short, there is still a deep understanding at the end of the episode among the Baseball Bunchers that what Ozzie Smith does with a glove is an act of sorcery.

As speculation simmered over his future role with the Giants, Brandon Crawford sent the earth into a series of fits and spasms this past week.

As Ozzie did before him, he emerged from a cloud of smoke and demanded to know who dared trod upon his territory, re-casting his spell over us all by conjuring up a two-minute defensive highlight reel from three games.

A play he made to close out the series in Colorado sent me into inarticulate fits, then he went and did this in Arizona two days later.

Last night, more of his casual cool nonsense.

But as a whole, 2022 has been a little bit of a free fall from his top-4 MVP season last year.

Statistically, it’s probably the second worst of Crawford’s career, out-done only by 2019. He’s missed a month across two separate stints on the IL because of a bad knee. 2023 will be his age 36 season and Bryan Murphy has already made a pretty convincing argument to why that is not an ideal age for shortstops.

On top of that, some of the more compelling free agent options in the offseason happen to play Crawford’s position.

We wouldn’t stick our noses up at Trea Turner or Dansby Swanson—but would we allow our franchise’s all-time leader of games played at short to play second? Or ride the bench? Or serve as a platoon in his farewell season in San Francisco?

If you answered yes without batting an eye, you’re probably an incredibly successful person in this world. For the rest of us bogged down with nostalgia, we have to figure out how to move forward by juggling our flaming bowling pin hearts with our running chainsaw logic .

Yes red flags are waving for Crawford—but they’re not at half-mast yet.

He can still be one of the best defensive shortstops in the league. We’ve seen after his return from the IL that he can contribute with his bat when his legs are sturdy. The numbers aren’t explosive, but they’re trending in the right direction.

Farhan Zaidi has touted a “big off season” with “everything on the table” (which is a good way to set expectations way too high and ultimately disappoint a lot of easily excitable people) but I just don’t think that means the front office is going to sign a Trea Turner or Carlos Correa to take over the shortstop position.

But if one of them wants to play second…

Zaidi extended his contract through 2024 and I think the Giants are going to honor that. Nobody wants to see Craw treated like Ozzie Smith was in 1996, when Tony La Russa had Smith essentially compete for the starting job with Royce Clayton, who was 26 years old and newly acquired from the San Francisco Giants (often cited as Crawford’s favorite player growing up). Dealing with injuries and some bad blood, Smith, at 41, was relegated to a platoon role and ultimately forced to negotiate a buy-out while announcing his retirement.

Sure it may have made business sense, but jeeze.

After 12 years, 2 championships, 4 Gold Glove awards and over 1500 appearances at the position, Crawford has every right to reassert his claim over the shortstop realm for one more year.

Based on his recent tear, Craw’s goal for ‘23 is going to hopefully have a little more depth than the typical pomp and circumstance of a farewell tour.