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Red Sox took correct angles

Snag of Crawford a deft maneuver

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By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 12, 2010

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The path to the Red Sox presenting Carl Crawford with a crisp white uniform jersey at Fenway Park yesterday started nearly five months ago when general manager Theo Epstein assigned one of his top scouts, Allard Baird, to follow the left fielder until the end of his season with the Tampa Bay Rays.

Armed with Baird’s detailed observations, an extensive statistical analysis, and a comprehensive background check, the front office assembled a thick report on Crawford that was presented to ownership.

That led to Epstein and manager Terry Francona flying to Houston Nov. 30 and meeting with Crawford at the offices of his agents, Greg Genske and Brian Peters.

They returned home convinced that Crawford was interested in the Red Sox and not necessarily bound for the Los Angeles Angels, the team favored to sign him.

“We made a connection with him,’’ Epstein said. “He was really intrigued with being part of our lineup. We felt like we were well-positioned to under the radar grind it out a little bit, and in the end he would want to come here.’’

Crawford, who hoped to stay in the American League East, liked what he heard from Francona. Crawford felt for the first time that his personality would mesh well with the Sox.

“They made me feel like they really wanted me,’’ he said. “That was big.’’

But nothing in the painstaking preparation for a run at Crawford, the best position player on the free agent market, prepared the Red Sox for the few frantic hours on Wednesday night that secured the franchise’s biggest free agent deal in a decade.

According to multiple sources familiar with how the process unfolded within the suites of the Dolphin Hotel at the winter meetings in Florida, the Angels made an offer of six years and $108 million to Crawford with a vesting option for a seventh season. He had until 11 p.m. to accept.

The Angels, convinced they were favored to get the speedy left fielder, had become unnerved when Yankees general manager Brian Cashman dined with Crawford and Peters on Tuesday. That caused them to press Crawford for a quick decision.

The Red Sox had an offer of seven years and $117 million on the table. They, too, were concerned about the Yankees, believing their well-funded rivals had the means to sign Crawford and free agent lefthander Cliff Lee.

To cloud those waters, the Red Sox offered Lee a seven-year deal, but at a salary they knew would be declined.

As the Yankees tangled with the Rangers over Lee, the Sox organized a new offer to Crawford of seven years and $142 million. That required the approval of team owners John Henry and Tom Werner, who were in England attending to matters related to their soccer team, Liverpool.

Epstein woke the owners and received permission to extend the new offer. Speed was essential, as the Red Sox feared Lee would make a decision and the losing team in that negotiation immediately would try and sign Crawford.

The Angels increased their offer, but not enough to sway Crawford from the Red Sox, who made his decision just minutes before the deadline. The story, which broke about 40 minutes later, stunned the rest of baseball.

“I had interest in the Angels, but at the end of the day I felt like my situation would definitely be better here in Boston,’’ Crawford said yesterday, his voice hoarse because of a cold. “My heart is here in Boston.’’

It has been a week since the Red Sox traded three prospects to San Diego for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez. Now they have added Crawford, a four-time All-Star who brings an intriguing combination of speed, power, and Gold Glove defense.

Crawford hit .307 with 19 home runs, 90 RBIs, 13 triples, and 47 stolen bases last season and is the youngest player in history to amass 100 homers, 400 steals, and 100 triples.

“I try to get better every year,’’ he said. “As far as the power, I’d like to get better in that area. I’d like to get better at drawing walks. I’d like to get better at getting more base hits. I try to improve every part of my game every year.

“Coming to this stadium, with the Green Monster and with this team, I feel like I can definitely improve. I’m looking forward to that.’’

Crawford’s deal is one of the 10 largest in baseball history. The Red Sox also have an understanding with Gonzalez on an extension that would pay him approximately $154 million over seven years. His $6.2 million deal for 2011 made it easier to sign Crawford.

“It made a lot of sense because of how we were positioned,’’ Epstein said. “Adding players the caliber of Gonzalez and Crawford, who are 28 and 29 years old, respectively, and having them through their prime years makes a ton of sense for us. We’re not going to apologize for it.’’

Crawford, even with his trouble talking, seemed thrilled.

“Before the season even starts, you tell in your mind, World Series, postseason, all that stuff,’’ he said. “And you know it actually might happen. It’s exciting for me because it’s something that’s new for me. I just want to embrace the whole thing and become a part of it and try my best to help this team get to the postseason and to the World Series.’’

Francona likes the idea of Jacoby Ellsbury hitting first with Crawford either second or third. He called Crawford “dynamic.’’

“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,’’ Francona said. “He’s a really special player.’’

Though the deal was done Wednesday, Crawford felt best when he told his 6-year-old son Justin about it.

“I think he’s a closet Boston fan. When I told him I was going to Boston, he was more excited than me,’’ Crawford said. “That’s when I knew I made the right decision.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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