Why the Cardinals signed Brandon Crawford and how he’ll mentor Masyn Winn at shortstop

JUPITER, Fla. — After spending 13 years proudly sporting orange and black, hopping on a cross-country flight to Florida and promptly donning a Cardinal red shirt and headband might have been jarring for Brandon Crawford. If it was, the 37-year-old veteran did a commendable job of hiding it.

“I did put it on and look in the mirror and it was a little different,” Crawford said with a smile. “But I’m looking forward to it and I’m excited.”

To pin down some depth at shortstop, the St. Louis Cardinals announced their signing of Crawford, who won two World Series and four Gold Glove awards — all with the San Francisco Giants — to a one-year major-league contract on Monday afternoon. Crawford is expected to back up rookie Masyn Winn, who is projected to be the shortstop on Opening Day. The deal is reportedly worth $2 million. To make room on the 40-man roster, infielder Buddy Kennedy was designated for assignment.

“(People) had been asking about what would happen if Masyn Winn or Tommy Edman wasn’t ready,” president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said Monday. “It was something we had been thinking about just to make sure we had some depth there. But also, bringing in someone with (Crawford’s) resume and what he’s been able to accomplish, we think he’ll be a great resource for Masyn as he continues to develop.”

Crawford’s addition to a St. Louis infield that already includes Winn, Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, Nolan Gorman, Brendan Donovan and Matt Carpenter was not solely about aiding Winn’s development. The Cardinals planned over the offseason for Tommy Edman to be an everyday center fielder who would spell Winn at shortstop only occasionally unless 21-year-old Winn began to struggle.

However, holes began to form in that blueprint as Edman’s recovery from right wrist surgery continued. Four weeks remain until the regular season and the Cardinals are unable to present a timeline as to when Edman could be cleared to take live swings, let alone play in a game. There is some internal concern that Edman will not be cleared before Opening Day, which would leave St. Louis without its starting center fielder and its backup shortstop.

Even with that possibility, the more Mozeliak and manager Oli Marmol pondered the roster, the more they felt it would be beneficial to bring in a true backup shortstop. Since debuting with the Cardinals in 2019, Edman has served as the team’s starting third baseman, shortstop, second baseman, right fielder and center fielder. After a strong showing defensively in center last year, the organization wanted to find positional stability for Edman. With the Cardinals bringing in Crawford, Edman will no longer have to worry about backing up shortstop whenever he is cleared to play.

“One of the things we are trying to do is not move Tommy all around,” Mozeliak said. “(We want) to get him to one position. Having the ability to bring in someone like Brandon can allow (Edman) to just focus on center field. In terms of how that relates to his rehab, we still have to be patient. But we’re hopeful that he’ll be ready.”

After deciding a reserve shortstop was needed, the Cardinals turned to a rapidly changing free-agent market. Amed Rosario, Tim Anderson and Nick Ahmed had all signed deals within the last week, and viable options were beginning to run short. Mozeliak reached out to Crawford over the previous weekend, and the deal came together quickly. By Sunday, certain players were informed of the agreement, and by Monday evening, Crawford had arrived in Jupiter to take the physical needed to make the deal official.

“When you’re looking at all of the different individuals that were out there, all of them might have different expectations of what their role might be, how much playing time they might get, what the demands might be,” Mozeliak said. “Brandon understood what we were trying to do. And he fit in with that.”

It didn’t hurt that Crawford is close friends with Arenado, shares an agent with both Arenado and Lars Nootbaar and has strong ties to Goldschmidt and Carpenter. That Mozeliak had always admired Crawford — who played a pivotal role in eliminating the Cardinals from both the 2012 and 2014 National League Championship Series was also a factor.

“I had always been a fan of him because he just always played the game right, played the game hard,” Mozeliak said. “Obviously, he was a member of some really successful teams and some teams that had beaten us. But I think he was one of those guys that just went about his business and knew how to be successful. Now he’s part of this team, and our expectations are he can help us continue to win.”

Crawford, who has only ever played shortstop in his 13-year major-league career (except one relief appearance) is open to the idea of playing other positions. The Cardinals, though, prefer to use him solely at shortstop, especially given their usage of Donovan in a super-utility role. The team also said Crawford’s signing will not impact Winn’s role.

“Let’s be clear, (shortstop) is Masyn’s job,” Mozeliak said. “We brought in Brandon to give us that protection should something happen, and he understands that role.”

Crawford concurred, adding: “I know shortstop is supposed to be (Winn’s) job. And I’m here to help him out any way that I can.”

Winn, who was informed about the team’s agreement with Crawford before he made his Grapefruit League debut on Sunday, understood the decision and was on board with it, Marmol said.

“He’s a competitor, and in his words, he said, ‘I never want to come into camp, especially this camp, thinking this job is mine. It doesn’t change the way I’m thinking about this,’” Marmol said. “Having a guy, with (Crawford’s) experience of winning, but also defensively winning with his Gold Gloves, there is a ton of wisdom to draw from there. I thought (Winn) responded to it very well.”

It will likely be at least a couple of weeks before Crawford sees game action. He will work himself up to game readiness on the back fields, participating in fielding work and live batting practices. The Cardinals are targeting Crawford to be ready for games by mid to late March.

Until then, Crawford will learn to adjust to a new organization for the first time in his career. A fan favorite in San Francisco, a new chapter will come with its fair share of emotions for him, his wife Jalynne and their five children. Crawford is eager to begin mentoring Winn and to get back to playing baseball. And while he’ll undoubtedly miss the Giants organization, he’s ready to start anew in St. Louis.

“I’ve always appreciated and respected (the Cardinals) from the other dugout,” Crawford said. “How they go about building a team, how they go about themselves on the field, just a very strong tradition with the Cardinals. I always enjoyed playing against them, now I’ll enjoy playing with them.”

(Photo of Brandon Crawford: Dale Zanine / USA Today)

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