Imposing figures

Crawford deal makes Red Sox the talk of baseball

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 10, 2010

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Carl Crawford and his representatives will be in Boston today, tying up the loose ends on a contract with the Red Sox that will pay the star left fielder $142 million over seven years.

Until that process is complete and team doctors confirm that Crawford is healthy, Theo Epstein would not comment on the biggest free agent signing of his eight-year tenure as general manager.

But others in baseball had plenty to say yesterday about the stunning move, which was first reported by the Globe late Wednesday night.

“Boy, they made themselves better,’’ said Mets executive J.P. Ricciardi, the former GM of the Toronto Blue Jays. “Not that they were bad, but they made themselves better. Crawford has a dynamic. It’s not just the speed, he hits. The Red Sox did a great job.

“I know one thing, I’m glad I’m not in the American League East anymore.’’

The addition of Crawford came only a couple of days after the Red Sox traded for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. After finishing in third place in the division last season, the Red Sox are suddenly favored to represent the American League in the World Series.

The 29-year-old Crawford is a four-time All-Star who earned a Gold Glove last season. He is a career .296 hitter with 409 stolen bases over nine seasons. One of the most exciting players in baseball, Crawford was the top free agent position player available.

“We would have preferred him leaving the division, all things being equal, but it wasn’t up to us,’’ said Orioles GM Andy MacPhail. “That team, frankly, in our view, was a powerhouse and a force going into 2010, and suffered injuries that were almost inconceivable and still had a pretty good year. Now, when they get [Dustin] Pedroia healthy, they get [Kevin] Youkilis healthy, they add Gonzalez, and they add Crawford, woo.’’

Woo, indeed.

Crawford hit .307 last season with a career-best 19 homers and 90 RBIs to go with 47 steals and a league-leading 13 triples. He fits comfortably into the lineup hitting first, second, or third.

“It’s a great player, a great move,’’ Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “They’ve had two huge acquisitions. They’re loading up like they always do, and this is even more significant than a typical Red Sox reload. So, they’ve done a great job so far.’’

But the well-funded Yankees will answer. They are fighting with the Texas Rangers for lefthander Cliff Lee, the top free agent pitcher available, and already have extended a seven-year offer worth at least $150 million.

As the two AL East behemoths exchange financial punches, the rest of baseball can only watch.

“They have revenue streams that other clubs don’t have,’’ said Angels GM Tony Reagins, whose offer to Crawford was reportedly $34 million less than the Red Sox’. That led to a quick agreement.

“The Red Sox and the Yankees are playing in a different league,’’ said Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers. “I talked about Adrian knocking paint off the Wall. Jeez, you’re going to have to have some guy hanging there constantly [repainting] during the game. That’s a pretty impressive lineup.’’

Towers believes the trade for Gonzalez helped the Red Sox land Crawford. Because Gonzalez is due only $6.2 million for 2011, the Red Sox had financial room for a big contract.

“Once you had him, you’re able to get another big bat and all of a sudden you become front-runners,’’ Towers said.

Speaking in general terms, Epstein agreed.

“Adrian, through trade, on a relatively affordable contract in 2011 put us in position on the right free agent to be aggressive,’’ he said.

The deal is the longest and most lucrative given under Red Sox owners John Henry and Tom Werner. It will be the seventh-largest contract among active players and 10th largest in history.

What made that commitment acceptable was the knowledge that Crawford would be only 36 when the contract ends and should age gracefully as a player because of his versatility and athleticism.

“Getting players in their primes or in the early parts of their primes, I think, is really important,’’ said Epstein. “If you’re going to sign a long-term contract, you want to make sure it at least starts at the right age and hopefully ends still at a reasonable age. Most elite position players sign through age 36.’’

Now the Red Sox need only to improve their bullpen to be ready for the coming season.

“If things come together the way we hope and expect, we’ll be really satisfied,’’ Epstein said. “You go into every winter with a Plan A and sometimes it’s hard to pull that off and you move on to Plan B and C.

“Adding an impact player was very important for where we were in the short, medium, and long term. Adding two, as long as they were the right players in the right spots and the right situation, we’d be even better.’’

The last free agent signing of this magnitude by the Sox came in 2000, when Manny Ramirez signed for eight years and $160 million. That helped lead to two World Series championships.

“They’re trying to get back there,’’ Towers said. “Good luck stopping them.’’

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