It's really tough for a player with five years and more than $100 million remaining on his contract to be labeled as an x-factor. But when that player is just two seasons removed from a seven win season and has amassed less than one win over the last two seasons...yeah, he's got a chance to make a bit of an impact going forward.
My x-factor for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2013 is Carl Crawford.
Pop quiz time. Everyone knows that Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp were fixtures in the Dodgers' outfield in 2012. But who ranked third on the team in defensive innings in the outfield?
You guessed it: Tony Gwynn Jr. Gwynn logged 578 innings in the outfield for the Dodgers last year, more than 100 more than trade deadline acquisition Shane Victorino. Gwynn, of course, had a .569 OPS for the Dodgers in 2012 and had negative value as his formerly elite defensive numbers dropped off. Past Gwynn and Victorino, the other two Dodgers to log at least 300 innings in the outfield were Bobby Abreu and Juan Rivera. Really.
Cumulatively in 2012, the Dodgers left field corps had a .674 OPS, ranking just behind the Astros for the 24th-best (worst?) mark in the league. Their six homers out of left field was the lowest total in baseball, with the Giants and Blue Jays a step above them with ten. That's not good, even if Crawford isn't an elite power hitter.
If Crawford is healthy and logs substantial playing time for the Dodgers in 2013, he'll be a vast improvement over the left fielders that the team trotted out in 2012. Right now, with Crawford's availability for Opening Day in question, Skip Schumaker is projected as the Dodgers' left fielder to start the year. You know, the same Skip Schumaker that has 23 career homers in 810 career games and has been worth 5.6 fWAR over his entire career. Jerry Hairston Jr or Alex Castellanos could also get playing time in left with Crawford out, but neither really is a long-term option due to age (Hairston) or a track record built upon brutalizing younger competition and taking advantage of hitters parks (Castellanos).
Say what you want (and justifiably so) about how much of an upgrade Adrian Gonzalez is over James Loney, but a healthy Crawford is an even bigger upgrade over the Dodgers' other options in left, and the crew they trotted out there last year (Victorino included).
Dodgers on TOC
End of Season Postmortem
2013 Season Preview
You May Say I'm a Dreamer
2013 Burning Question
This Is My Nightmare