LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — A night after Carl Crawford enjoyed a steak dinner with the New York Yankees, he served up a meaty surprise: He’s going to play for the rival Boston Red Sox.
The Red Sox struck again at these winter meetings, reaching agreement late Wednesday with the star left fielder on a $142 million, seven-year contract.
Boston general manager Theo Epstein wouldn’t directly confirm the move on Thursday.
“If things come together the way we hope and expect, we’ll be really satisfied,” he said.
Predictably, the Yankees quickly raised the stakes for their No. 1 target, increasing their offer to prize pitcher Cliff Lee to a seven-year contract. That’s up from a six-year proposal worth nearly $140 million.
“He’s a premier free agent,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “He’s worth waiting for.”
A person familiar with the Crawford deal told The Associated Press the agreement was subject to him passing a physical. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet finalized.
On Monday, the Red Sox announced they had acquired slugging first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in a trade with San Diego.
“You go into every winter with a Plan A, and sometimes it’s hard to pull that off and you move on to Plan B and C,” Epstein said. “I think adding an impact player was very important for where we were in the short-, medium- and long-term and adding two, as long as they were the right players in the right spots in the right situations, would be even better.”
Boston’s big deals came after the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs and ratcheted up pressure on the Yankees to make a splash.
“They’re loading up like they always do,” Cashman said. “This is more significant.”
A person with knowledge of the negotiations told the AP about the increased offer to Lee, without disclosing the dollar amount. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing.
Crawford’s free-agent deal was first reported by The Boston Globe on its website.
The speedy Crawford is a four-time All-Star and just won his first Gold Glove. He hit .307 with 19 home runs, an AL-leading 13 triples and 90 RBIs for Tampa Bay last season. He scored 110 runs and stole 47 bases.
A dynamic player at 29, he has spent his entire major league career with the Rays. He is the franchise leader in several categories, including hits, RBIs, runs and steals.
Both Chicago teams were busy, too, filling their needs at first base — Carlos Pena joined the Cubs, Paul Konerko returned to the White Sox.
Outfielders Jeff Francoeur and Matt Diaz found new clubs while designated hitter Jack Cust and former All-Star reliever George Sherrill appeared to be on their way.
Hard to tell about Tampa Bay shortstop Jason Bartlett, however. After a trade with Baltimore fell through, the Rays worked on a swap that would send him to San Diego.
Still in play are big-name free agents Adrian Beltre, Magglio Ordonez and Manny Ramirez, along with Lee.
“The winter meetings have usually been a lot about first meetings, and we’re into second and third meetings,” top agent Scott Boras said. “I’ve gotten two deals done here. I’m trying to think back to when that’s happened. It’s been a while.”
Boras put Pena and the Cubs together for what he called a “pillow contract” — $10 million for one year.
“There’s a lot of comforts,” Boras said.
The 32-year-old Pena hit a career-low .196 this season with 28 home runs and 84 RBIs for Tampa Bay.
“I’m extremely confident. I don’t tend to look back on my failures and dwell upon them,” he said.
The Cubs, who traded star first baseman Derrek Lee to Atlanta last August, didn’t seem daunted by Pena’s drop-off.
“It’s not a gamble. It’s a real good fit,” GM Jim Hendry asserted. “We have filled all of the essentials that we were looking for with Carlos.”
Konerko got a $37.5 million, three-year deal to stay with the White Sox. The 34-year-old team captain hit .312 with 39 home runs and 111 RBIs last season.
The four-time All-Star was in Mexico, on vacation and overlooking the ocean, when he got a text message that the White Sox had acquired free-agent slugger Adam Dunn. At first, Konerko figured that meant his days in Chicago were Dunn. Then, he reconsidered.
“Maybe they’re actually going to make a push to get both of us,” Konerko thought to himself.
Francoeur, who started last season with the New York Mets and wound up in the World Series with Texas, sounded enthused about becoming an everyday starter in Kansas City.
“When I’ve been comfortable, I’ve tended to play well,” he said. “I’m not the greatest guy when I sit on the bench. I have ants in my pants.”
Cut by Atlanta, Diaz went to Pittsburgh. Cust was closing a deal to leave Oakland and play for Seattle and Sherrill hoped a move from the Dodgers to Atlanta would help rejuvenate his career.
The meetings end Thursday with the Rule 5 draft, mostly made up of minor league veterans left off 40-man rosters. Even when teams pack up and leave the Disney resort, look for more deals — often 3½ days of talking quickly turns into a move or two.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.