Published December 11, 2010
BOSTON – BOSTON (AP) — Carl Crawford was hoarse when he spoke at his Red Sox introduction.
Otherwise, he's pretty much perfect for them.
"I don't know where that came about," the speedy Crawford said Saturday, his words slow and scratchy. "I can't believe it happened at this moment."
And what a moment it was for Boston as the four-time All-Star buttoned up his white Red Sox jersey with his familiar No. 13 on the back at the official announcement that he had signed a seven-year deal as part of what may be baseball's best lineup.
"He's one of the most dynamic players in the game," manager Terry Francona said. "He can change the game all the time — on defense, on the bases, at the plate — and not a lot of players can do that. He's a really special player."
This year, Crawford won his first Gold Glove, stole 47 bases and posted career highs of 19 homers and 90 RBIs. He hit .307, the fifth time in six seasons he was over .300. He also led the AL with 13 triples. He's led the league in stolen bases four times in his nine seasons, all with Tampa Bay.
Now add that to slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, traded from the San Diego Padres a week earlier, Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, and opposing pitchers may not enjoy taking the Fenway Park mound with the short right field foul pole and the high Green Monster in left.
"Before the season even starts you tell in your mind 'World Series, postseason, all that stuff' with Boston," the 29-year-old Crawford said. "You know it actually might happen."
Crawford had reached a preliminary agreement Wednesday night on a $142 million contract after becoming a free agent. Gonzalez, 28 and entering the last year of his contract, is expected to sign a seven-year extension in 2011.
Pedroia is signed through 2014 with a club option for 2015, Youkilis' deal runs through 2012 with a club option for 2013, and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury can't become a free agent until after the 2013 season.
That's five key players the Red Sox could keep for three more years.
"It's a pretty rare opportunity," general manager Theo Epstein said, "for an organization to add two of the best players in the game, in my opinion, under 30 to a core that I feel is already young and in its prime."
Beset by long-term injuries to Pedroia, Youkilis and Ellsbury, Boston finished third in the AL East behind the Rays and New York Yankees. The Red Sox also got subpar seasons from starters Josh Beckett and John Lackey.
Comebacks from that group would enhance prospects for winning the division and returning to the playoffs after last season's absence.
Ellsbury, with a total of 120 stolen bases in 2008 and 2009, was limited to 18 games last season because of rib injuries. Almost fully recovered, he and Crawford, called by Epstein "a game changer," could provide a speedy one-two punch at the top of the order. Crawford said he doesn't mind where he hits in the lineup and Francona indicated it would be second or third.
"Our best team is when Jacoby's hitting first," Francona said.
The Crawford-Ellsbury combination could be just as impressive on defense.
"I know there's a bunch of historical names and I just want to be part of that" group of Red Sox left fielders — Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Manny Ramirez, Crawford said. "Hopefully, I can go down as one of the best left fielders that played here."
Red Sox scout Allard Baird attended most of his games in the second half last season. On Nov. 30, Epstein and Francona met with Crawford and his agents Greg Genske and Brian Peters in Houston, Crawford's hometown.
"We felt like we had made a connection with Carl at the meeting and that he was really intrigued by being part of our lineup, especially after we traded for Adrian," Epstein said.
The Los Angeles Angels were the other serious bidder, but Crawford said he preferred to stay in the AL East.
"I have a 6-year-old son. I think he was a closet Boston fan," he said. "When I told him I was coming to Boston he was more excited than me. And that's when I knew I had made the right decision."
Overshadowed by the signing of Crawford was the return of catcher Jason Varitek, 38, to the team for a 14th season on a $2 million plus incentives, one-year deal announced Friday. He's expected to share playing time with and be a mentor to 25-year-old Jerrod Saltalamacchia.
"More than any time in my career, I had probably the most interest from other teams," Varitek said. "It's awesome (to be back)."
Now he doesn't have to try to throw out Crawford, who stole six bases against him in one game in 2009.
"He probably the most athletic player that's in the game," Varitek said. "Him on the bases speaks for itself. Him running down balls speaks for itself."
Crawford will get many more cheers from the daily sellout crowds at Fenway than at his sparsely attended Rays home games.
"There's going to be a lot of screaming and hollering, so that's one thing that gets you up and keeps you going," he said. "They can boo somebody else now. I took my share out there in left field. It was torture."
Crawford receives a $6 million signing bonus, with $1 million payable within 30 days of approval and the rest in $1 million installments on the first day of five consecutive months starting in May.
He gets salaries of $14 million next season, $19.5 million in 2012, $20 million in 2013, $20.25 million in 2014, $20.5 million in 2015, $20.75 million in 2016 and $21 million in 2017.
Crawford would earn a $50,000 bonus each time he's an All-Star; $100,000 each for Gold Glove, Silver Slugger and World Series MVP; and $75,000 for league championship series MVP. He would get $200,000 for winning the MVP award, $125,000 for second, $100,000 for third, $75,000 for fourth and $50,000 for fifth.
He also receives a limited no-trade provision. Boston designates 28 teams he can be traded to without his consent and Crawford can eliminate two of them.