Fearless Red Sox come away clear winners

Bauman: Fearless Red Sox leave as winners

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Exact scores are not tabulated in these events, but let there be no dispute about the fact that the Boston Red Sox won the 2010 Winter Meetings.

There were other clubs that helped themselves and left Central Florida for home and happy holidays believing that they were improved for 2011. But only the Red Sox landed two genuine impact players.

Boston had both a fast start and a fast finish to these Meetings. General manager Theo Epstein traded with the Padres for first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, a left-handed hitter who -- with his opposite-field power -- looks like an ideal fit for Fenway Park. And he is a two-time National League Gold Glove Award winner. The Red Sox will have Gonzalez for the foreseeable future -- according to multiple reports, parameters are in place for a seven-year, $154 million contract that will become formalized perhaps at the beginning of the regular season.

That acquisition was a truly significant move. But the Red Sox struck again late Wednesday night when they signed free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year, $142 million deal. With all due respect to the Washington Nationals and the $126 million they spent to acquire outfielder Jayson Werth, Crawford -- as an all-around player -- was the leading outfielder available on the market this offseason. He is a four-time American League All-Star and he was a staple of the Tampa Bay Rays' recent success.

Crawford, at 29, is two years younger than Werth. Werth has greater power than Crawford, but Crawford's speed sets him apart from the vast majority of players. Crawford has led the AL in stolen bases four times. That speed is also an asset for him in the outfield; he won an AL Gold Glove Award in 2010.

Crawford's career has shown a tidy, linear kind of development. He has improved over time, hitting over .300 in five of the last six seasons. In 2010, he set career highs in both home runs and RBIs with 19 and 90, respectively. He'll help the Red Sox, and if he absorbs the club's culture of increased patience and selectivity at the plate, they'll help him as well.

Those who were dismayed about the Red Sox not retaining third baseman Adrian Beltre and/or catcher Victor Martinez can now feel distinctly better about the overall picture. Kevin Youkilis returns to third, where he was already an accomplished defensive player. With Crawford in left and the return of Jacoby Ellsbury to center and to full health, the Red Sox will have blazing speed in two-thirds of their outfield.

And, given something like good health, after an epidemic of injuries last season, Boston should have a lineup that will be truly diverse. The Sox should have the power to erupt, but they should also have the speed to be able to manufacture runs if the power isn't functioning.

Nine digits
Here are the 27 contracts of more than $100 million that have been signed since Kevin Brown's deal first broke the barrier in 1999 (asterisks identify contract extensions).
Player
Team
Money
Years
Alex RodriguezNYY$275M2008-17
Alex RodriguezTEX$252M2001-10
Derek JeterNYY$189M2001-10*
Joe MauerMIN$184M2011-18*
Mark TeixeiraNYY$180M2009-16
CC SabathiaNYY$161M2009-15
Manny RamirezBOS$160M2001-08
Troy TulowitzkiCOL$157.75M2011-20*
Adrian GonzalezBOS$154M2012-18*
Miguel CabreraDET$152.3M2008-15*
Carl CrawfordBOS$142M2011-17
Todd HeltonCOL$141.5M2003-11*
Johan SantanaNYM$137.5M2008-13*
Alfonso SorianoCHC$136M2007-14
Vernon WellsTOR$126M2008-14*
Jayson WerthWAS$126M2011-17
Barry ZitoSF$126M2007-13
Ryan HowardPHI$125M2012-16*
Mike HamptonCOL$121M2001-08
Jason GiambiNYY$120M2002-08
Matt HollidaySTL$120M2010-16
Cliff LeePHI$120M2011-15
Carlos BeltranNYM$119M2005-11
Ken Griffey Jr.CIN$116.5M2000-08*
Kevin BrownLAD$105M1999-2005
Carlos LeeHOU$100M2007-12
Albert PujolsSTL$100M2004-10*
Sources: Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Associated Press and MLB.com archives

The additions of Gonzalez and now Crawford make the Red Sox better on all fronts. These were expensive -- but necessary -- moves. It is not the fault of the Red Sox that the Nationals set the market for Crawford at such a lofty level by overpaying for Werth. For the Red Sox, the alternative to spending major money in the extraordinarily difficult neighborhood of the AL East is becoming an also-ran. That is not a functional option.

Everything the Red Sox do is typically measured against what the Yankees are doing. But with the acquisitions of Gonzalez and Crawford, the order is reversed. The Yankees, at the moment, are playing catch-up ball.

So one ironic element of the Red Sox's moves is that they will help to make ace left-hander Cliff Lee an even wealthier man than he was going to be anyway. The Yankees have been one of the primary pursuers of Lee, this offseason's prize of the free-agent pitching market. Now, with the Red Sox having improved themselves twice, the Yankees will be even more motivated to get better, which in this instance means getting Lee.

This side effect was already on display hours after the Crawford signing. The Yankees had reportedly offered Lee a six-year, $140 million deal on Wednesday. On Thursday, it was reported that the Bronx Bombers had added a seventh year to their offer. Thus, Lee's deal has apparently entered the neighborhood of the record pitching contract -- seven years and $161 million -- which the Yankees gave to CC Sabathia two years ago.

But Sabathia was 28 when he signed that contract. The Yankees had been reluctant to add years to Lee's offer, since he is already 32. The Yankees have had to up the ante, because the Red Sox have left them with little choice.

The rivalry between these two teams never stops. Even now, Christmas approaches, but there is no ceasefire. In this case, though, the Red Sox -- with the trade for Adrian Gonzalez and the signing of Carl Crawford -- have not only outdone the Yankees, they have turned the 2010 Winter Meetings into a showcase for their future.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.