Report: Boston Red Sox Sign Carl Crawford

As we continue to wait on confirmation for the Jason Bartlett trade, there was some breaking news on late Wednesday night/early Thursday morning that will greatly impact the 2011 Tampa Bay Rays; former franchise player, and leftfielder, Carl Crawford has reportedly agreed to a massive seven-year contract with the rival Boston Red Sox worth a whopping $142 million.

The winter meetings opened with fellow outfielder Jayson Werth receiving a seven-year, $126 million dollar deal and ends with Crawford making $16 million more for the same amount of service. The Rays’ franchise leader in nearly every offensive category except home runs (that would be Carlos Pena, who received $10 million from the Cubs on Wednesday), Crawford will make an average salary of nearly $23 million dollars under this agreement (pending a physical).

While this deal is huge in both length and dollar, it is also a sizeable risk as well. Throughout baseball history we’ve seen our share of $100 million contracts, but ESPN’s statistical information staff reports this is the first contract given to a player who has never hit 20 home runs in a single season. Instead of the big power (they will pay Adrian Gonzalez for that), the Red Sox are paying CC for his speed and defense – the two things he does arguably better than anyone else in baseball.

That said, Crawford has openly complained about cranky legs in the past and the length of this contract carries him through his mid-30s. As he gets older, and he loses some of that speed, Crawford platoon splits could become a bigger story. Often overshadowed by his game-changing ability, Crawford has shown a glaring weakness against left-handed pitching (career .697 OPS versus LHP). Expect that to be one area where the Rays attack their former All-Star going forward.

On the other hand, Crawford is likely to be an elite player for at least the next three to four years. If you are a high-revenue team like Boston, you are willing to over pay by a year or two in order to reap the production benefits of those first couple of seasons.

For the Rays, this news comes as a double-whammy. Everyone knew Crawford was leaving Tampa Bay, however, most figured he would settle out West with the Los Angeles Angels. As a member of the Red Sox, the Rays not only lose Crawford in their own lineup and on defense, but also watch him strengthen the lineup/defense of a team they will face 19 times a year; a team that is arguably their most bitter rivals.

During his winter meeting press conference Rays Manager Joe Maddon said about the loss of Crawford ” 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.” “He’s a good guy. He’s a good player. He’s earned this moment, and we all wish him well. But he’s all of that. He’s really good. He’s really good.”

The compensation of receiving the Red Sox first-round pick could be considered a silver lining; however, it is a small consolation price at this moment.

Desmond Jennings – the long rumored successor to Crawford – is not guaranteed a job to start the season, but is expected to be the heavy favorite to win the leftfield job in spring training. It is extremely unfair to saddle him with the burden of replacing Crawford’s production in the lineup right away meaning others like B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist are going to have to pick up the slack.

The hope of everyone around the Rays is one day Jennings can be a dynamic player like Crawford, but the Rays will be very cautious not apply to much pressure to their top positional prospect early on. On Tuesday, Joe Maddon said of Jennings “this guy’s going to be fine, he’s going to hit enough. He’s going to hit for some power. His defense is going to be spectacular.” He also said he’s expecting Jennings to make some mistakes along the way, but added “couple more years he’s going to be a solid performer in this league.” When asked about Jennings replacing Crawford, Maddon said he’s not looking for Jennings to be the next Carl Crawford, but instead the first Desmond Jennings.

In the last 24 hours, the Rays have seen Crawford land in Boston, are working on a trade to send Bartlett to San Diego, watched Carlos Pena sign with the Chicago Cubs, and have discussed a trade that could send Matt Garza to Chicago as well. That’s a lot of production to replace on a little budget.

Good luck, Andrew Friedman.