FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said he employed "a bad figure of speech" when he said the Red Sox checked out Carl Crawford "as if we were privately investigating him" before signing the free-agent outfielder last December.
Crawford said Tuesday that he was "creeped out a little bit" when Epstein told him that the club had monitored him, not only on the field, but off the field, in the months before signing him.
"I thought that was a little weird," Crawford said Tuesday. "I guess that's what they have to do when they're making that kind of investment."
Crawford signed a seven-year, $142 million contract with the Red Sox last December, the largest contract in club history in terms of average annual value.
"Our scouts just did a real thorough job on background, that's all," Epstein wrote in an e-mail after being apprised of Crawford's comments. "[We] felt like we got to know him real well, that's all. I told him we got to know him real well and we really respected the decisions he made, even away from the park.
"We told him we trusted him with a long-term contract because of his work ethic and his decision-making, so we'd be involved in the bidding."
Epstein had referred to the background check they did on Crawford in a radio interview last week with Boston sports radio station WEEI.
"The more we dug on him, and we covered him as if we were privately investigating him. ... We had a scout on him literally the last three, four months of the season at the ballpark, away from the ballpark," he said.
Epstein said Tuesday that the process they followed with Crawford was no different than the one they follow with any major free agent signing.
Crawford said he was not certain at what stage in the process Epstein told him, but thought it was on the visit Epstein and manager Terry Francona made to his hometown of Houston before the winter meetings. Epstein confirmed that was the case.
"I can't remember when he told me," Crawford said, "but I was a little freaked out."
If Crawford was perturbed, it was not enough to keep him from signing with the Red Sox instead of the Los Angeles Angels, the other major suitor bidding for him. But his remarks Tuesday gave every indication that he construed Epstein to mean they had conducted a private investigation on his off-field movements.
"He told me straight up, like you [a reporter] just did," Crawford said. "I didn't say nothing, but I'm from an area where if somebody's doing that to you, they're not doing anything good.
"I get paranoid when I hear those kind of stories, so I definitely take a different approach when I do things now. It did have an effect on me, let me put it that way."
Assistant to the GM Allard Baird, who oversees the club's pro scouting department, was assigned to scout Crawford for most of the second half of the 2010 season.
"I knew they were scouting me," Crawford said. "Coaches would tell me this guy asked about you, or that guy."
But he said he had no inkling they were monitoring him off the field, too.
"I definitely look over my shoulder now a lot more than what I did before," he said. "Just when he told me that, the idea of him following me everywhere I go, was kind of, I wasn't comfortable with that at all.
"I don't know how they do it, how much distance they keep from you when they watch you the whole time. I definitely check my back now, at least 100 yard radius. I'm always looking over my shoulder now. Now I look before I go in my house. I'd better not see anything suspicious now."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.