Mike Carlson/Associated Press
Carl Crawford, who played for Tampa Bay since 2002, will join A.L. East rival Boston for a reported $142 million for the next seven years.
The Yankees have seen Carl Crawford from the beginning, from his first month in the majors with Tampa Bay in 2002. They have seen him slash line drives into gaps and over fences. They have seen him charge around the bases and soar to snag fly balls that seemed destined to fall. They have seen him lead his team to the top of the standings.
“He’s a difference maker for any club he goes to,” Yankees Manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday. “He changes the complexion of the game.”
The Boston Red Sox, of course, have seen the same things as the Yankees. And when Crawford reached an agreement to switch sides in the American League East late Wednesday night, he went with the Red Sox. The Yankees never made him an offer, and may live to regret their decision.
Crawford agreed to a contract with the Red Sox, according to a baseball official who was told of the deal. The official was granted anonymity so he could speak about another team’s transaction. The Boston Globe was the first to report that Crawford would get $142 million for the next seven years.
The Crawford signing is the second megadeal by the Red Sox in the past week, coming days after their trade with the San Diego Padres for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. With two moves — and probably about $300 million, including the reported $160 million contract extension for Gonzalez — the Red Sox have seized the favorite’s spot in baseball’s toughest division.
The Yankees had a chance to make this move. Instead of pursuing Cliff Lee, the Yankees could have tried to sign Crawford, then use left fielder Brett Gardner as part of a package to land starter Zack Greinke from the Kansas City Royals.
The Yankees had enough interest in Crawford for General Manager Brian Cashman to dine with Crawford and his agent, Brian Peters, on Tuesday night. But they determined they could not afford to sign Crawford while also trading for Greinke, who makes $27 million over the next two seasons.
So the Yankees believed it was wiser to stick with their existing outfield of Gardner, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher, which helped them lead the majors in runs scored last season. Why, then, were they entertaining Crawford only 24 hours before news broke of his agreement with Boston?
As baseball’s economic superpower, the Yankees consider everything. And they guessed — accurately, it seems — that their presence in the Crawford talks could drive up his price for one of their rivals.
The Angels had seemed the most aggressive pursuers of Crawford. Their center fielder, Torii Hunter, had openly campaigned for him, and since losing Chone Figgins, the Angels have needed a dynamic producer at the top of their order. But apparently, Boston needed Crawford more.
In pulling off the moves for Gonzalez and Crawford, the Red Sox have done what they tried to do after the 2003 season: replace two superstars with two other superstars in the same off-season. Then, they tried to shed Nomar Garciaparra and Manny Ramirez and bring back, in separate deals, Magglio Ordonez and Alex Rodriguez. The plan failed when the union vetoed a restructuring of Rodriguez’s contract.
This time — once a formal contract is announced — the Red Sox have done it. They have already let Victor Martinez sign with the Detroit Tigers, and they will not bring back Adrian Beltre, the All-Star free-agent third baseman. Both were dangerous hitters. But Gonzalez and Crawford should be much better, and neither has yet reached his 30th birthday.
The Red Sox still need to upgrade their bullpen. But with Josh Beckett, John Lackey, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Daisuke Matsuzaka, their rotation is loaded.
Everything suggests that the balance of power in the division has shifted their way.
Tampa Bay won the East this past season, a game better than the Yankees, and the Rays will have the talented rookie Desmond Jennings to take over for Crawford. But they will miss him dearly, and they know it.
“I don’t know that I’ll really wrap my mind around that until spring training when he actually slaps you in the face — or slaps you in the face with another team,” Rays Manager Joe Maddon said on Wednesday, when asked about Crawford’s pending departure. “Listen, he’s a good guy. He’s a good player. He’s earned this moment, and we all wish him well.”
The signing of Crawford, who becomes baseball’s highest-paid outfielder, only increases the intense pressure on the Yankees to sign Lee. They have offered six years and about $140 million, a risky investment for a 32-year-old pitcher.
Deals of $100 million for pitchers rarely work out. Just ask the teams who invested in Kevin Brown, Mike Hampton and Barry Zito. There is considerable injury risk as pitchers move into their mid-30s, and if a control artist like Lee loses zip on his fastball, there is no telling how he would adjust.
But with a rotation of just C. C. Sabathia, Phil Hughes and A. J. Burnett, and perhaps Andy Pettitte, the Yankees really have no choice. They have to sign Lee. But even if they do, the Red Sox still look better.