LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla — The Red Sox entered the 2010 baseball winter meetings already deemed one of the winners, having traded for slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. They figure to leave it with 29 teams in their extremely impressive wake.
Carl Crawford, the top positional free agent on the market and someone who was presumed to be off the Sox' radar as recently as sundown Wednesday, was reported by The Boston Globe to be signed by Boston to a seven-year, $142 million contract before midnight, representing the highest-paid contract for an outfielder in baseball history.
The move gives Boston a lineup so deep that projecting where Crawford might hit is not exactly a cinch, and one potentially so good that it will conjure up memories of the relentless lineups the club boasted in years past, but maybe never quite like this. On paper, at least.
It also shakes the rival New York Yankees to their core. They came to Florida knowing the Sox may have matched their Mark Teixeira coup with Gonzalez, but figured that their rivals would do little else other than add to a shaky bullpen and perhaps make a move for a right-handed bat or "complementary" outfielder. Instead, after watching Boston undergo an offensive transformation unlike any in offseasons of recent memory, their pursuit of left-hander Cliff Lee could reach mythic proportions, if they allow the Crawford move to affect them so.
New York most recently offered six years and $140 million to Lee, who has been looking for a seventh year. If Boston rolls into Yankee Stadium with a lineup loaded with top-notch left-handed hitters, the presence of Lee will be a must-have, as will that of Andy Pettitte. That ball's in Yankees general manager Brian Cashman's court.
Meanwhile, his counterpart in Boston, Theo Epstein, has seemingly convinced ownership to stray from what has defined them in recent years. Twice in a week he has given players long-term contracts beyond the duration the club ever gave out in the current regime. It was even somewhat shocking that John Lackey got five years last offseason. The fact that Crawford and Gonzalez are that special likely has something to do with it.
Gonzalez, after officially signing an extension, will be a Red Sox through 2018. Crawford will by his side for the first seven of those years.
On Tuesday at the winter meetings, Cashman reportedly expressed "frustration" with the pace of the Lee negotiations. He then had a meeting with Crawford and his representatives. The writing on the wall would suggest that he may have seen this coming and hoped to lock up Lee before he becomes an absolute necessity and, therefore, more expensive. Also, the meeting with Boston's new left fielder could've been a last-gasp effort to keep him from the Sox — Cashman's outfield is relatively set, so the addition of Crawford would seem to signal excessiveness, unless another move was made.
Now, there is no Crawford, and Lee will have that much more ammunition in asking for the world. It was Lee's willingness to wait it out that may have kept enough teams at bay, allowing the Sox to strike when very few believed they would.
In a session with the Boston media contingent early Wednesday night, Epstein said he wasn't close to pulling anything off, was further from finalizing a deal than he was the night before, had just one meeting planned with a player he had yet to make an offer and remained committed to less-sexy items like finding middle relief. At some point, when asked jokingly about who might be the GM most disliked, he said it could be him by the next morning.
It was a throwaway line amid a relaxed, relatively news-less session in Epstein's suite at the Swan and Dolphin Resort, but there just might've been some truth to the whole thing.
Perhaps Epstein knew he was about to steal the offseason.