First, there's money.
There, that does it.
OK, it's not just about money. If Crawford had thrown MVP-type numbers on the board in his first two seasons in Boston, the Red Sox wouldn't even be thinking about dealing him.
Regardless, this isn't strictly about production. Crawford arrived in Boston with a solid 10-year track record as one of the few players capable of making an impact on games with his glove, speed and bat.
He had a bad first season in Boston, and he got hurt at the beginning of his second. Stuff happens. These last 16 months don't erase all the good things he did with the Rays.
Crawford wouldn't be the first player to have a tough transition to a new team, especially when burdened by the kind of expectations he'd never had before. He has played well since returning to Boston's lineup, and there's zero reason to believe he won't settle in and resume a nice productive career.
Unfortunately, because he didn't put up Hall of Fame stats in his first 10 minutes with the Red Sox, plenty of fans turned on him. In addition, the general manager who signed him, Theo Epstein, is now running the Cubs.
There didn't seem to be a unanimous agreement about signing him in the first place, so when the Marlins seemed willing to discuss a Crawford-for-Hanley Ramirez swap, the Red Sox were intrigued.
Even with Crawford out of the lineup, the Red Sox have scored the second-most runs in the Major Leagues. If they could unload the remaining $110 million on Crawford's deal, they could use some of that money to shore up a rotation that is 12th in the American League in ERA, 10th in innings and 10th in opposing OPS.
There's going to be an assortment of quality starting pitching on the market this offseason: Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, James Shields, Kyle Lohse, Brandon McCarthy, Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy and Joe Blanton, to name a few.
The Red Sox were criticized for not spending more money last winter, but that's just silly talk. The Red Sox have been second or third in payroll the last three years, so to criticize their spending is ridiculous.
Still, the larger issue is that baseball's financial landscape has undergone a fundamental change since Crawford joined the Red Sox. Baseball's new labor agreement includes a tough luxury tax on payrolls above $189 million beginning in 2014.
Every team, including the Yankees and Red Sox, is attempting to position itself to get under $189 million by then. The Red Sox already have $94 million committed to six players in 2014 -- Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and Crawford.
Crawford is owed $21 million a season over the next five years. His contract clearly won't keep the Red Sox from upgrading, but to trade him for, say, Ramirez would give GM Ben Cherington more flexibility to tweak his roster.
Meanwhile, Ramirez will make $15.5 million and $16 million over the next two seasons. One large potential hangup comes from reports that the Marlins would like the Red Sox to take closer Heath Bell and the $9 million he'll make in 2013 and 2014.
The Red Sox would be taking enough of a gamble on Ramirez, who has batted .246 the last two seasons. But Bell leads the Majors in blown saves, with six, and has pointed a finger at himself as being the largest reason the Marlins are 10 games out of first in the National League East.
Maneger Bobby Valentine has done a superb job maneuvering Boston's bullpen despite the absence of closer Andrew Bailey. Only the A's have had a better bullpen in the AL.
Despite everything the Red Sox have gone through this season, they're a mere 1 1/2 games out of the AL Wild Card lead. If Lester, Beckett, et al., begin to roll up quality starts, there doesn't appear to be any reason why the Red Sox can't make the playoffs.
But as he looks at the rest of 2012, Cherington must also key an eye on 2013 and beyond. That's where it gets interesting. That's where he must be tempted to keep talking to the Marlins.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less