LOS ANGELES -- Carl Crawford will be the Dodgers' starting left fielder in 2013. That's their story and they're sticking to it.
Of course, the Dodgers really aren't sure. It's hard to be sure about a player coming off Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, not to mention one that is owed more than $100 million over the next five seasons. That's what the Dodgers were willing to take off the books of the Boston Red Sox for Crawford in last year's blockbuster trade that also brought Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to Los Angeles for James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Jerry Sands and Ivan DeJesus Jr.
That's a trade with a lot of moving parts, although the Crawford component is likely the riskiest personnel move the franchise has made since trading away Pedro Martinez, if not the riskiest since they left Roberto Clemente unprotected in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft.
Crawford, 31, had his operation one day before the Dodgers acquired him, an unprecedented gamble considering the price tag for known damaged goods. His recovery and rehab is something of a mystery, as he has remained in his native Houston rather than working out under the supervision of club medics in Arizona, as Matt Kemp is doing while rehabbing from his shoulder operation. Of course, Kemp has a home in Arizona and Crawford does not.
Crawford did fly to Los Angeles for an introductory press conference Oct. 26 and has been in touch regularly with the club's medical department. Trainer Sue Falsone is scheduled to fly to Houston next week to meet with Crawford.
Manager Don Mattingly, traveling from his Indiana home to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., for this week's Development Camp for prospects, detoured through Houston to talk to Crawford, who waived a no-trade clause to get out of Boston for a fresh start in California.
"I felt like he's really excited and can't wait to get going and get back on the field," said Mattingly. "It's been like two years that he's really been healthy. He's ready to put the whole Boston thing behind him. He feels like just moving forward and just playing."
That would be fine with the Dodgers, as long as he's physically capable. But that's the unknown. Crawford has only begun baseball activities in the past week.
"He sounds pretty confident," said Mattingly. "He's been working really hard, but he's had to go slow. In the next 30 days, as he starts doing more baseball stuff, he'll get a better feel for what he can do. He's still in rehab mode. I'm sure he's going to be a little behind [in] throwing."
The Dodgers believe they can live with that, especially from a left fielder. What they need from Crawford is the offense he showed with Tampa Bay while making four All-Star Game appearances, winning a Silver Slugger Award and four stolen base titles. Mattingly said Crawford figures to bat first or second, setting the table for Kemp, Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier.
The combination of speed, power and defense helped turn Crawford into one of the most sought-after free agents after the 2010 season. He landed a seven-year, $142 million contract from the Red Sox, but two seasons in Boston were so disappointing that he apologized to fans for his play.
In addition to the elbow, Crawford has dealt with chronic left wrist issues that required surgery last January to debride cartilage, a common surgery for arthritic patients.
"It gets inflamed from time to time and is just something to deal with," he said in October. "I'm hoping if the elbow gets strong, it will take the pressure off the wrist. The elbow has bothered me for over a year. I definitely feel once I'm done with the rehab, I'll be back to my old self."
In Boston, the comparisons weren't so kind. The fans were tough on Crawford, and he didn't blame them.
"I hate to make excuses," he said. "My thing is, point blank, if you don't play well, everything goes bad for you. I didn't play well, didn't play up to expectations. You sign for $140 million and don't play well, that's a recipe for disaster. That's what happened. Hopefully, I'll come to L.A. with a clean slate."