By Sean McAdam
According to Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, the Red Sox had a front-office contingent in Houston Wednesday, meeting with representatives of free-agent outfielder Carl Crawford, and will meet with outfielder Jayson Werth and his agent, Scott Boras, Thursday in Chicago.
This continues a trend for the Sox in the last several years. In the week prior to the 2008 Winter Meetings, general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona met with Mark Teixeira in what wound up being an unsuccessful effort to land the free agent first baseman. Last year, the Sox visited John Lackey before the Winter Meetings in Indianapolis and wound up signing the right-hander.
Crawford, 29, and Werth, who will turn 32 next May, are the other top two outfielders on the free-agent market, and the Sox, in need of outfield help, are nterested.
Crawford just completed his ninth season in Tampa Bay and is coming off a career year. He hit .307 with a .356 on-base percentage and a .495 slugging percentage, and set career highs in triples with 13, home runs with 19, RBI with 90, and runs scored with 110.
In his career, the left-handed-hitting Crawford has a .296 average with 592 RBI and 104 HR. He's also stolen 409 bases, with a career high of 60 (in 2009), has swiped 50 or more in five seasons.
He's a strong defensive left fielder and it's thought the Red Sox would leave him there and play Jacoby Ellsbury in center. Crawford has been a top-of-the-order hitter in Tampa but has expressed interest in moving to the middle of the order. The Red Sox, who have already lost Victor Martinez and are expected to lose Adrian Beltre to free agency, would probably bat third or fifth in Boston.
Crawford is expected to receive the longest contract of any position player in this year's free-agent market, with some forecasting a deal that could be as long as seven or eight years.
The Rays, who have said they're cutting payroll this offseason, have zero hope of retaining him. The Angels have been regarded as the favorites to sign Crawford; in fact, L.A. outfielder Torii Hunter has already reached out to Crawford. Los Angeles, coming off a rare losing season, has signaled a willingness to spend freely this winter in an attempt to close the gap between themselves and the defending league champion Rangers in the A.L. West.
Werth batted .296 for the Phillies last year with 27 home runs and 85 RBI, along with an OBP of .388 and a slugging percentage of .532. He's hit 87 home runs in the last three seasons and, as a right-handed power hitter, would fill a glaring need for the Red Sox, many of whose biggest hitters (David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew) are left-handed.