For $142 million, Carl Crawford is apparently willing to change more than uniforms.
Introduced in a Saturday morning news conference at Fenway Park, the now former longtime Ray revealed a most interesting reason he chose to sign with the Red Sox: "My heart is here in Boston."
Also that he'd be willing, if asked, to bat leadoff and play centerfield, neither of which he wanted to do with the Rays.
Crawford, his voice hoarse from a cold, spoke for close to 20 minutes but made little mention of, and didn't thank, the team he spent the past 12 years with, 8½ in the big leagues. (Though about three hours later there was a post to the @CarlCrawford_ Twitter account handled by his agents thanking the Tampa Bay fans and organization.)
"I'd been with the Rays since I was 17 years old, so it was a little different for me knowing I was about to leave," Crawford said at the news conference. "But you get older and you mature and you know things have to go a certain way and you understand that, and you just have to go with the flow."
And also, obviously, with the money. The seven-year deal, which includes a $6 million signing bonus, was the sixth-largest total-value contract for a free agent in baseball history, and the $20.3 million annual average was second highest for an outfielder.
Crawford also received an offer from the Los Angeles Angels, who were widely considered the favorites and better overall fit. But the Sox overwhelmed their bid — reportedly by $16 million overall, $34 million in guaranteed money — and Crawford happily and excitedly joined the team that for so many years he viewed as the archenemy.
"The Angels have a pretty nice organization, too, but at the end of the day I think that my heart is here in Boston," Crawford said. "I have a 6-year-old son (Justin) and I think he was a closet Boston fan because when I told him I was coming to Boston, he was more excited than me, so that's when I knew that I had made the right decision. It's just one of those things — the feeling. The feeling feels so good that you just couldn't pass that up."
Also, Crawford said, Sox general manager Theo Epstein "made me feel like he really wanted me. And that was big for me to feel like I was going to go somewhere where people actually wanted to have you."
The Sox were quite serious. Epstein said they'd been eyeing Crawford as a potential free agent addition since he signed his last contract with the Rays — which was in April 2005 — and had one of their top scouts follow the Rays the second half of the past season just to watch him.
Crawford is expected to play leftfield and hit second or third in Boston's dynamic lineup. But just his openness to consider filling in elsewhere had to be jarring to the Rays given his well-known reluctance, and even stubbornness, to do either for them.
"I definitely don't have a problem with hitting anywhere," Crawford, 29, said. "I don't mind playing anywhere. Whatever you want to do with me is fine."
After a Boston reporter cracked that there were more people at the news conference than "on a Tuesday night at the Trop," Crawford said he was excited about regularly playing before a full house.
"I'm definitely ready for that," he said. "That's one thing that attracted me here. You know it's going to be sold out, you know there's going to be excitement, you know there's going to be a lot of screaming and hollering. It's something that gets you up; it keeps you going."
Crawford also raved about being part of a perennial contender ("It's exciting for me because it's something new"); being on the right side of the Fenway fans ("They can boo somebody else now. I took my share"); and being able to remain in the AL East ("I really wanted to stay").
In sum: "I don't think I could have asked for a better situation."