- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Just days before Monday's opening of baseball's winter meetings, the Boston Red Sox have stepped up their pursuit of the two free-agent outfielders at the top of their list, Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth, meeting with both players and their agents, according to sources.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, accompanied by manager Terry Francona, met earlier this week with Crawford and his agents in Houston. That meeting was initially reported by Yahoo! Sports and confirmed to ESPNBoston.com by league and industry sources.
On Wednesday Epstein and Francona met at a Chicago airport hotel with Werth and agent Scott Boras, sources told ESPNBoston.com.
Crawford, called a "game-changer" by Francona during a recent radio interview, is considered by many to be the top position player on the market this winter. What will it take to sign Crawford? Quite likely, a deal of the magnitude of the seven-year, $120 million contract the St. Louis Cardinals gave outfielder Matt Holliday in January to keep him in St. Louis, or more.
During John W. Henry's tenure as owner, the Red Sox have never signed a free agent for a contract longer than the five-year, $82.5 million contract they gave John Lackey last winter. At the time, they said, that was a concession to the market, noting that the New York Yankees had signed A.J. Burnett for those same terms a year before and it would take a similar deal to sign Lackey. In 2007, they signed outfielder J.D. Drew to a five-year, $70 million deal.
Are the Red Sox willing to make a similar market concession this winter? The longest contract Epstein has given any player has been six years, and he has done it twice, once for Daisuke Matsuzaka -- the definition of special circumstances -- and to Dustin Pedroia, a deal for $40.5 million that will look like a steal if Pedroia remains healthy and productive. Those are always big ifs, as demonstrated this past season when Pedroia fractured his foot. A freak injury, to be sure, but one that knocked Pedroia out of the last three-plus months of the season.
The Los Angeles Angels are expected to make a major push for Crawford, and if the past is any guide, Angels owner Arte Moreno is about to make the team's best offer for the player. Moreno is not one for much give-and-take, preferring to put his cards on the table and letting the player decide to accept or walk. The Red Sox are prepared for the possibility that the Angels might be willing to offer more years and dollars than they are willing to give.
The Tigers were mentioned as having strong interest in Crawford, but they've already signed Victor Martinez and reliever Joaquin Benoit and re-signed Brandon Inge, so there's a question of how much money is left. And though the Yankees' top priority is signing pitcher Cliff Lee, they can never be counted out on a player (see: Teixeira).
In the end, Werth may prove to be the more attractive option, especially with the Red Sox looking for a way to replace the right-handed power they're giving up in the departure of Martinez and possibly free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre.
At 31, Werth is two years older than Crawford and presumably could be signed for a shorter term, although Boras may have different ideas. Werth has some interest in returning to Philadelphia, but the Red Sox made it clear Wednesday they would have great interest in signing him.
The Red Sox are still in the mix for Beltre, also represented by Boras, but that appears to be more of a long shot. Sources tell ESPN.com's Jayson Stark that Beltre could sign with the A's quickly.
The Red Sox have no other meetings scheduled with free agents prior to the start of next week's winter meetings in Orlando, a source told Stark.
But the Red Sox are expected to intensify their efforts to add bullpen help, add a complementary catcher to Jarrod Saltalamacchia, shop for a first baseman or a third baseman, and gauge the likelihood of signing either Crawford or Werth.
The Red Sox did not offer salary arbitration to Jason Varitek, and while the team captain remains in play, the source suggested the Red Sox are looking hard at alternatives.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.