'The type of dude I am' -- J.P. ready to lead

Crawford has firm backing from Dipoto as Mariners' long-term shortstop

November 15th, 2021

SEATTLE -- Of all the anecdotes worth unpacking from Jerry Dipoto’s trip to the GM Meetings last week, one that stood out prominently was the validation that the Mariners’ president of baseball operations shined on .

Dipoto told reporters, firmly, that Crawford is the Mariners’ shortstop of the now and long-term, and he added on by sharing that he told Crawford as much at the end of the season.

Is that a big surprise? Not necessarily, given that Crawford was arguably Seattle’s most consistent hitter last year, was again a Gold Glove Award finalist and flirted with an All-Star bid. Yet this offseason had long been looked at as the one in which Dipoto would strike in free agency, given the trajectory of Seattle’s rebuild -- and the loaded shortstop class.

Dipoto said that his front office will still actively pursue those big-ticket players, but not to play shortstop, and he even shared that he plans to lean on Crawford to help recruit such free agents. That underscores how far Crawford’s clubhouse standing has come since arriving in a trade with the Phillies in the 2018-19 offseason, when he was a prospect who never quite lived up to his lofty hype and needed a fresh start. Now, he’s viewed as the heir apparent to Kyle Seager as the leader of Seattle's position-player core.

“I knew I could be that guy,” Crawford said near the end of the season. “As soon as I came over, I knew I had a chance to be that guy. This is the type of dude I am. I've always been a leader growing up and all my friends looked up to me growing up. And I feel like this year, it's the same thing. I'm ready for that role and I'm ready for put the team on my back. And just, they know, if it's 2 a.m. or 2 p.m., I'm going to answer my phone call for them. It doesn't matter. And they know that. I'm going to be here for them.”

“The leader on the field, the mentality, I love the energy that he brought this year at the top of the lineup,” Dipoto said. “And for a team that really achieved what it achieved because of its emotion and those emotional leaders, I thought J.P. showed emotional leadership at a really young age.”

A prominent standing only comes with results, and Crawford is cognizant of that. Touted by Mariners manager Scott Servais as the most competitive player on last year’s roster, Crawford has an edge. He might not say it out loud, but he plays as if he’s out to prove everyone wrong, perhaps even himself at times.

Crawford’s consistency in 2021 hinged on availability. He started all but three games, hit .273/.338/.376 (.715 OPS) and was worth 3.1 WAR, per FanGraphs, which trailed only Ty France for the team lead. But it’s also because he remained healthy, an issue that sidelined him in his younger days.

Crawford spent all of last offseason at the Mariners’ Spring Training facility in Arizona to bulk up, with the hope of turning his doubles into homers, but that approach change held him back, so he stopped seeking extra power. Yet all of that additional conditioning still proved impactful because it kept his body prepared for the rigors of a 162-game season. Before 2021, Crawford’s most games played were 93 in ’19.

“The main goal for me this year was to stay on the field and keep my body in shape to be able to play every day,” Crawford said. “And I did that, and the work I put in this offseason, it helped me feel a difference this year.”

Crawford is now one of the favorites for a Mariners club that has seen so much turnover the past three seasons and finally has a core group that fans have latched on to. It began just before the All-Star break, when crowds began chanting his name at home games during his highest-leverage at-bats, and it continued to the final weekend, when the Mariners had sellouts on the final homestand for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Away from T-Mobile Park, the SoCal-native Crawford has adopted Seattle as a second home.

He and his fiancé, Kathy, in August partnered with NW Snowdog Rescue to advocate for other huskies in addition to their two, who were regulars at Bark at the Park nights. Blazing Bagels, his favorite local sandwich shop, named a menu item after him: The CrawDADDY, and $1 from each purchase will benefit NW Snowdog Rescue. The fishermen at Pike Place Market recognized him earlier this summer and invited him to take part in the famed fish-tossing spectacle. He loved living on Mercer Island and hanging along Lake Washington after day games.

Crawford really wants to be here, and he now has full -- and public -- backing from management that he will be.