LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- For anyone questioning whether the Boston Red Sox retain interest in free agent outfielder Carl Crawford, the answer is yes. Multiple club sources confirmed as much Tuesday night.
That desire comes with a disclaimer, though. "But how many years?'' one source said. "How crazy was the Jayson Werth deal?''
Werth signed a seven-year, $126 million deal on Sunday with the Washington Nationals.
Asked about Crawford, Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said, "It's the same answer I gave yesterday. Obviously we're in a new situation now after we've made a major acquisition, but like I said, anything is possible, right?''
The Red Sox have ample reason to keep a low profile on their talks with Crawford's agent, Greg Genske, who once represented Manny Ramirez and has remained silent on his negotiations with all of Crawford's suitors. The Red Sox would prefer that the Yankees remain occupied with trying to sign lefthander Cliff Lee, though privately, the Red Sox don't rule out the Yankees acquiring both players.
In fact, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had a long meeting Tuesday night with Crawford's representatives, a source told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
The Yankees are planning to move in a different direction if they do not get Cliff Lee, and Crawford would be a big part of that.
The Los Angeles Angels, who finished 19th in runs last season after finishing second the year before, need a lineup catalyst like Crawford, and their outfield defense could use a major upgrade. They remain the favorites to sign the 29-year-old left fielder, but until the Red Sox are convinced the bidding has gone beyond a level they're comfortable with, they are expected to remain in the running.
While Epstein says he would be comfortable starting the season with the outfield alignment the club currently has, that would mean committing left field either to a rookie, Ryan Kalish, or a 38-year-old, Mike Cameron, who is coming off major abdominal surgery. There is a sentiment in the organization that Kalish might benefit from another season in Triple-A, which would make him a more polished player in 2012, when he would be in line to inherit right field from J.D. Drew, whose contract expires at the end of next season.
Crawford has been described as a "game-changer" by Red Sox manager Terry Francona, and, in combination with Jacoby Ellsbury and Drew, with Gold Glove winner Cameron as the fourth outfielder, he would give the Red Sox superior outfield defense from foul line to foul line. But for a player whose primary physical asset is speed, Epstein's desire to limit the number of years in an offer to Crawford is understandable.
The Red Sox are exploring other outfield options, Epstein confirmed. Outside of Crawford, the team would prefer a right-handed bat for more lineup balance, which is why they have looked into trading for Washington's Josh Willingham and have also talked to the agent for Matt Diaz, who was nontendered after five seasons with the Atlanta Braves. They are undoubtedly exploring other options as well.
Realistically, that may be the avenue the Red Sox ultimately embark upon. But as long as the express lane to Crawford remains open, the Red Sox are taking that ride.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here. Joe McDonald covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.