What motivated the Cardinals to sign free-agent shortstop Brandon Crawford?

And what does it mean for other players?

Let’s take 12 swings at this, shall we?

1. The Cardinals needed protection in two ways. If rookie shortstop Masyn Winn gets off to a brutal start or is injured, this team has no one else to take over at shortstop. Tommy Edman is supposed to be the center fielder. The shortstop spot isn’t a good place for a guy (Brendan Donovan) who is coming back from elbow surgery. And shortstop is Donovan’s weakest position. Forget about Jose Fermin, Arquimedes Gamboa, Jeremy Rivas and other camp visitors.

2. Edman is prominent in the thinking behind the move. He’s hoping to rehab his wrist in time for the start of the regular season. The Cardinals have noticeably lowered their expectations on his readiness. He may have to open the season on the IL. If that’s the case, then Dylan Carlson takes over in center (presumably) and Edman won’t be available to rotate into the shortstop position if Winn is injured or sent to the minors.

3. Even if Edman is good to go, I’m opposed to the idea of using him in center field and shortstop. This spirited competitor throws his body around. He gets beaten up, and beaten down. Other than catcher, the two most physically demanding positions are CF and shortstop. Why risk additional injury or leave Edman exhausted by overexposing him? He shouldn’t be spinning, sprinting and flying around with the responsibility of manning two difficult defensive areas. Makes no sense. The Cardinals need a clear No. 2 shortstop.

4. Crawford is 37. What does he bring to the show? Well, he’s a respected and admired player. He was an essential presence – offensively and defensively and leadership – in San Francisco’s World Series titles in 2012 and 2014. He’s won four Gold Gloves for his shortstop defense. He was chosen for three All-Star teams. He won a Silver Slugger in 2015 as the best-hitting shortstop in the majors. He finished second in the NL MVP voting in 201. Crawford has credentials. He has credibility. He has a championship pedigree. You aren’t going to find someone with that impressive resume to join your team in a reserve role.

5. I like the idea of Crawford being there for Winn. Crawford has a rep of being an exceptional teammate. Winn is in the very early stages of his MLB career. He’ll have ups and downs. At times he will need guidance, advice, and help. Crawford has won gold gloves and championships. Other than Ozzie Smith being there for Winn during spring training, I can’t think of a better shortstop to come in and mentor Winn.

6. Crawford had this to say Tuesday when meeting with the gathered media covering the Cardinals: “I know they have Masyn Winn, who is a young prospect shortstop and it’s supposed to be his job. I’m here to help him out any way I can and obviously help the team anyway I can, also. That’s what was appealing.”

This is exactly what you want to hear from Crawford.

And in speaking with media Tuesday, John Mozeliak wanted to reaffirm something  about Winn:  “We think (Crawford) will be a great resource for Masyn as he continues to develop. Let’s be very clear though, this is Masyn’s job.”

7. OK, what about the current state of Crawford’s defense? Admittedly, I’m confused. In 2023 the defensive metrics were all over the place in the assessment of his defensive performance. He scored very well in Outs Above Average (Statcast.) He graded terribly in Defensive Runs Saved (Baseball Info Solutions.) Some of the other systems – UZR/150 – had a negative rating for Crawford. The FanGraphs’ defensive rating on Crawford was positive. I’ll give Crawford the benefit of the doubt here, just by going with the Statcast stuff. He’s played shortstop for 13,600 regular-season innings in the majors. He knows what he’s doing. That means something.

8. Is there much left offensively? From 2012 through 2021, Crawford was above the league average in OPS+ six times in 10 years. As recently as 2021, Crawford put up fantastic numbers that included 30 doubles, 24 homers, 90 RBIs, a .373 OBP, .522 slug and an OPS+ that put him 41 percent above the league average. But over the past two seasons Crawford faded to a hitting line of .216/.293/.332 and had an OPS+ that was 24 percent below league average. Adjust your expectations accordingly. Again, he’s been hired to be a backup shortstop. And a mentor. Have some perspective.

9. That said, there are reasons to believe in an possible upturn for Crawford offensively in 2024. His Statcast hitting metrics were very good in 2023. His hard-hit rate (43.5%) was the second best of his career since the Statcast info went into place in 2015. The same applies to his barrel-rate percentage. His average exit velocity improved to 89.8 mph last season. His sweet-spot contact rate went up. Crawford can still handle fastballs. Last season against four-seam fastballs he had a hard-hit rate of 52.3 percent, struck out only 18.1% percent of the time on the pitch, and had an expected slugging percentage of .498. There’s still hope for a resurgence. It would help Crawford to stop chasing as many pitches as he did last season.

10. The injury factor is a concern. In 2022 Crawford missed 32 in-season days because of two knee injuries. Last season was especially painful for him: 15 missed days with a calf strain, 11 with knee soreness, 13 with arm trouble, and 11 with a hamstring. That’s 50 in-season days missed. And in between all of the IL stays, Crawford sputtered to an OPS+ that was 37 percent below league average offensively. Obviously, the success of his offense and defense will be influenced – significantly so – by the state of Crawford’s baseball health in 2024.

11. What does this mean for the St. Louis bench? There are four spots. As of now, they’re all filled: backup catcher Ivan Herrera, fourth outfielder Dylan Carlson, Matt Carpenter, and Crawford. A spot could open if the Cardinals had 12 pitchers on the roster instead of 13. (Doubtful.) An additional space would be available early in the regular season if Edman – or another player – is placed on the IL. Or if another player is designated for assignment or otherwise demoted to Triple A Memphis. But as of now it’s Herrera, Carlson, Carpenter and Crawford. In that roster composition, the proverbial odd man out is corner outfielder Alec Burleson. Memphis is his likely destination at the start of the season. With the Cardinals putting such an intense emphasis on adding experience, there isn’t enough space to accommodate the available roster candidates.

12. How much will Crawford play? I don’t think the Cardinals recruited him to sit around for a week at a time. One thought is having Crawford get a lot of his swings against right-handed pitching. Winn had problems against righties at Triple A Memphis last season, batting .214 with a .378 slug and .692 OPS in 464 plate appearances. (Winn crushes lefties.) But here’s the problem with that thinking: through 2021, Crawford was slightly above average vs. RHP for his MLB career. That’s based on park-and-league adjusted runs created (wRC+.) And over his last two seasons (combined) Crawford batted .211 against righties with a .295 OBP, .325 slug and a .620 OPS. Not good.

For what the Cardinals needed in their current setup, it makes sense to sign Crawford. I don’t expect everyone to agree. But for some reason in our baseball village, we’ve always seemed to have a weird blind spot about the backup players. We seem to think that the 26 roster slots should be loaded with All-Star talent. That isn’t even sane, let alone reasonable. The Cardinals are committed to Winn as their shortstop for the present and future. But they needed to have some contingencies in place. Here’s the thing about backup players: believe it or not, all 30 MLB teams have them, and they are backups for a reason.

Thanks for reading …


A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or grab the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.

All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Baseball Prospectus and Sports Info Solutions unless otherwise noted.

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 36 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. A 2023 inductee into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.