Crawford, Gonzalez deals reshape Red Sox
Epstein's well-thought-out plan comes to fruition at Winter Meetings
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The buzz that the Red Sox created with their blockbuster 1-2 punch at the Winter Meetings could be felt by a stroll through the lobby at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort on Thursday morning, as the baseball world collectively began to pack up and leave.
Meanwhile, in his final hours in Florida, Boston general manager Theo Epstein stayed in his suite, away from all the noise but pleased that his offseason plan is going just about the way he drew it up.
The Red Sox have been reshaped with the addition of two offensive stars, as Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford are about to become Fenway fixtures.
One is a slugging 28-year-old first baseman acquired in a trade with the Padres. The second is a speedy 29-year-old outfielder who will be formally signed (seven years at $142 million) within a couple of days.
"Nothing that we did at these Meetings -- or may have done or will do shortly -- was the product of a last-minute idea," Epstein said. "It was all a product of -- hopefully -- a well-thought-out plan over a long period of time, and well-documented with lots of scouting, following players over the course of whole half-seasons, white papers written up about how the parts all fit together, a lot of thought and lot of commitment and belief -- and commitment to winning and belief from ownership."
After missing the postseason in 2010 -- Boston's first October absence in four years -- the Red Sox hope to rejoin the elite next season -- and beyond. With Epstein's two big moves all but finalized, the rival Yankees are hoping to land lefty Cliff Lee, the top free-agent pitcher on the market, within days.
Epstein won't acknowledge the Crawford signing until it is officially announced, but he did talk about the execution of his winter plan in general terms in a 15-minute interview session with the Boston media.
"You know, if things come together the way we hope and expect, we'll be really satisfied," Epstein said. "I think you go into every winter with a Plan A, and sometimes it's hard to pull that off, and then you move on to Plan B and C. I think adding an impact player was very important for where we were for the short-, medium- and long-term."
Epstein got that impact player when he finished off the Gonzalez trade on Sunday, but he didn't stop there. By late Wednesday evening, he had also secured the services of Crawford with the 10th-richest contract in baseball history.
"Adding two [impact players], as long as they were the right players, in the right spots, in the right situations, would be even better," Epstein said. "I'd like to think we don't do anything purely on a short-term basis. The moves that we make, especially the significant moves, have to make sense from a short-term standpoint, mid-term standpoint and long-term standpoint. It has to make sense on the field in terms of talent, the way the parts fit together, the makeup of the players, the long-term roster and payroll forecast.
"A lot of thought went into whether we could be as aggressive as we needed to be on certain fronts and whether it was viable over the short-, medium- and long-term."
Apparently, the answer was yes, as the Red Sox have made their imprint on this Hot Stove season.
"The more we assessed those different variables across those different perspectives -- and we did this objectively over months and months and months -- we realized there was a shot -- if things came together the right way -- we could be pretty aggressive on a couple of players we really liked," Epstein said. "Adrian, through trade, on a relatively affordable contract [$6.3 million] for 2011, put us in position, on the right free agent, to be aggressive."
Boston now has four multi-time All-Star position players still in their prime in Dustin Pedroia, Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and Crawford, and a fifth in Jacoby Ellsbury who could get to that level in the next year or two. The Sox also have David Ortiz, who might not be what he once was, but did belt 32 homers and drive in 102 runs in 2010.
"He's an impact player," said Rangers general manager Jon Daniels of Crawford. "It was an aggressive move and they're an aggressive club."
Boston's pitching staff is led by the lefty-righty tandem of Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz. The Sox hope that Josh Beckett and John Lackey, two former All-Stars, can bounce back from subpar seasons.
Epstein is still working to acquire a bullpen arm or two and solidify his bench. But the foundation is in place, and it's one that could fuel the Boston teams of the next several seasons.
While Epstein is generally leery of mammoth free-agent investments, Crawford was the type of player he felt he could make an exception for. Ditto for Gonzalez, who is likely to agree on a seven-year contract worth $154 million before he is eligible for free agency at the end of the 2011 season.
"A truly elite position player in his prime is a sound investment if it's the right player with the right makeup and the right health and the right ability," Epstein said.
It might never be known exactly what Epstein's Plan B or C was, but reading between the lines, Gonzalez and Crawford were the two top names on his winter shopping list.
The ages of Gonzalez and Crawford were huge factors.
"I don't think there's a bright line with age, per se, but getting players in their primes -- or in the early parts of their primes -- is really important," Epstein said. "If you're going to sign a long-term contract, you want to make sure it at least starts at the right age and ends at a reasonable age. Most elite position players sign through age 36. If you can get a player signed through 35 -- I know it sounds silly, but that might be a victory in and of itself, capturing more of a player's prime years from 29 to 35.
"If it's the right player and you expect him to age well, it can be a more tolerable risk than signing a player who's already into his 30s and you go into the late 30s. If you look at the history of big long-term contracts, just narrowing it to position players, most of the ones that in hindsight can truly be deemed mistakes are ones that captured years in the late 30s or mid-to-late 30s. If you focus more on the prime years, you give yourself a much better chance to get the kind of return on investment that you're looking for."
Because Crawford's speed is such a big part of his game, it's fair to wonder when he might lose a step or two. But that's another aspect the Red Sox did their fair amount of research on.
"Historically, [Red Sox advisor and renowned stats guru] Bill James did a lot of work on that," Epstein said. "Players with young-player skills tend to age better than players with old-player skills. Speed is certainly a young-player skill. It's proven out over time, but each player is unique with his aging pattern."
While many suspected that Epstein would land Gonzalez or Crawford, there were very few who predicted they'd get both.
"I think with both of the big moves that we've been working on this winter, we did a fairly good job as an organization of keeping quiet and not tipping our hand, so to speak," Epstein said. "Even though neither move was a big surprise or one that wasn't linked to our organization, we didn't read a lot about it before it happened, which was nice."