Crawford signing huge move for Red Sox

Just before midnight in the Boston Red Sox suite, I trust there were raised glasses and scribbling ballpoints.

What do you think, guys? Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford, Youkilis, Gonzalez? Or do you put Gonzalez right after Crawford, since Carl can jog home from first on those Wall doubles? Oh wait, what about Big Papi? Almost forgot about him. MUHAHAHAHA!

Yeah, the Red Sox missed the playoffs. But they just cold-cocked the winter meetings.

On Sunday, it was Adrian Gonzalez. On Wednesday, it was Carl Crawford. On Opening Day, it will be the unveiling of Boston's most exciting baseball team since the days of Manny Ramirez's brilliant and mercurial prime.

Of course, the money was huge. That much was a given. Crawford will be paid $142 million over seven years. Despite never hitting 20 home runs in a major-league season, he just agreed to the richest long-term contract (by average annual value) of any outfielder in history.

But the size of a man's paycheck can stir only so much emotion. Crawford's contract matters insofar as it tells us where we can watch him between now and 2017. And on that subject, I am prepared to make the following proclamation:

This summer, I will be flipping to NESN's Don Orsillo for the Crawford Innings.

The 2011 Red Sox promise the unknown, a collection of speed and power not seen at Fenway Park in a very long time. This year's team, by comparison, wasn't terribly entertaining. The last group of hires -- Adrian Beltre, John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro -- included good, professional ballplayers. But they didn't resonate with casual fans.

Gonzalez will. Crawford will. This team will.

The Red Sox needed this. They needed Gonzalez to hold a press conference during which he declared, "I'm ready to beat the Yanks." They needed to deny the Angels -- a frequent postseason foe -- the free-agent speedster who seemed so perfect for them.

Is Crawford ready for Red Sox Nation, and all the pressures that go along with performing before such a frenzied constituency? I don't know. Crawford doesn't always make the correct fundamental plays. That sort of thing can be a big, big problem in Boston. Case in point: He ran into the final out of a September game against the Yankees on an ill-advised tag-up to third base.

But if you steal home the next night, you're a Fenway idol again. And Crawford is capable of doing that. In fact, he is capable of most things on a baseball field.

Crawford has led the league in triples four times. He is coming off career highs in home runs (19) and runs scored (110). Let's just say he should be able to take John Valentin's old No. 13 without much trouble.

And if we may, let's revisit that hotel notepad lineup: Terry Francona's first three hitters could indeed be Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia and Crawford. Pedroia and Crawford both have had at least one 100-run season since 2008; Ellsbury came close twice.

Over the seven-year period that began in 2003, either Crawford or Ellsbury led the American League in stolen bases in all but one season.

After watching Crawford and the Tampa Bay Rays terrorize catcher Victor Martinez, perhaps the Red Sox resolved to make speed a greater element of their own team.

The result could be an atypical American League lineup, one that doesn't feature a true run producer in any of the top three spots. But that's fine. We won't be able to take our eyes off the television set. Besides, the extra-base thunder from Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz should more than compensate.

Let's call the Crawford signing what it was: a bold and savvy maneuver by general manager Theo Epstein. A boost to Boston's very legitimate world championship hopes. A message of menace directed at the Yankees and Angels. A response to the 36.6 percent drop in local television ratings. Clear evidence that failed seasons -- i.e. missing the postseason -- aren't tolerated in Boston.

It was all of those things. Mostly, though, it restores the Boston Red Sox to the unquestioned forefront of baseball discussion across the country. The San Francisco Giants are the champions and a great story. But already, the Red Sox have seized the headlines. In Gonzalez and now Crawford, they have charismatic stars who inspire a natural curiosity in the viewing public.

They are talented. They are rich. And to paraphrase Gonzalez, they are here to beat the Yanks.

The best part about Carl Crawford? He's done that before.