Many of us woke up this morning to the news that Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox made the biggest splash at the winter meetings thus far with the signing of Carl Crawford to a 7-year, $142 million contract.

To say this was a major coup for the Red Sox would not be an overstatement. Maybe the most prized positional player on the free agent market, Crawford was being pursued by some of the league’s heavy hitters and ESPN Los Angeles reported that sources thought he was “almost certainly” going to be an Angel.

But the Red Sox swooped in with an astounding contract that will pay him on average annual salary of $20,285,714, putting him in the top 10 highest paid players, based on annual salary. The total contract is the 10th largest in history, according to the Associated Press.

Is that worth it for a guy like Crawford? The market dictates worth and seeing as Jayson Werth was handed a 7-year, $126 million contract, in terms of keeping contracts proportionate with ability, then yes, it was a “fair market value” deal.

So just how good is Carl Crawford? In 2010, he won a gold glove, a Silver Slugger award for being the best-hitting left fielder, led the league in triples and stole over 40 bases for the seventh time in the last eight years and has an OPS Plus of 134.

While he’s never hit 20 home runs in a season, Crawford’s speed makes him a power hitter. His 62 extra base hits ranked 13th among qualified hitters and were more than Alex Rodriguez, Vladimir Guererro and Victor Martinez.

In terms of the division, Crawford helps in so many ways with a career batting average of over .300 against every division opponent, with the exception of Tampa Bay, of course. The signing also helps protect the Red Sox from Crawford, who hit .300 off Sox pitchers and had more stolen bases against Boston than any other team in his career.

With Crawford on board and Jacoby Ellsbury presumably healthy going into the season, the Red Sox have a very different look from last year when their fasted everyday player was probably J.D. Drew.

So now, what to do with the lineup? The Red Sox find themselves with a great deal of left handed bats on the team right now (Ellsbury, Crawford, Gonzalez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew). So how do you keep a balanced lineup? This is my suggestion:

1. Jacoby Ellsbury (L)
2. Dustin Pedroia (R)
3. Carl Crawford (L)
4. Adrian Gonzalez (L)
5. Kevin Youkilis (R)
6. David Ortiz (L)
7. Marco Scutaro (R)
8. J.D. Drew (L)
9. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (S)

The threat of having a lefty come in to face Crawford and Gonzalez in crucial situations is not has high, given the fact that Gonzalez actually hit lefties at a .337 clip last year, higher than his .278 against righties. The real concern is having a left handed bat protecting Ortiz. Therefore, while not as much of a threat with the bat, Scutaro provides better protection in that sense than J.D. Drew, who batted .208 against southpaws last year and actually has better career numbers out of the eight hole than the seventh spot.

Now with the offense bolstered, Epstein needs to change his focus to the pitching staff. The Red Sox posted one of the worst bullpen ERAs in the league at 4.24.  The bullpen needs a complete overhaul with quality arms, not reclamation projects that Epstein seems to like so much.

The offense is fine now. Time to focus on quality, as opposed to quantity in the bullpen. So here’s my list of potential arms the Red Sox should consider:

  • Type A free agent Scott Downs would cost the team draft picks, The Red Sox should also not be quite so hesitant this year to go out and get a recognizable guy like Downs, despite what it would cost in addition to money. Downs has posted ERAs of under 3.00 in three of the last four seasons (In 2009, he had a 3.09 ERA).
  • Pedro Feliciano (Type B) has been a tremendously underrated reliever for the Mets (3.09 ERA in ’07, 4.05 ERA in ’08 and3.03 in ’09, led the league in appearances all three seasons).
  • Jon Rauch (Type B) was a terrific fill-in guy for the Twins when they lost closer Joe Nathan for the season.
  • Matt Guerrier (Type A) is another underrated reliever from the Twins organization, who really has some great career numbers, including a 3.38 career ERA.
  • Brian Fuentes had a nice bounce back season last year, but don’t expect another sub-3.00 ERA. He has value as a left handed arm. He did make the fewest appearances of his career since 2004, though, so you have to wonder about the 35-year-old’s durability.
  • Kevin Gregg (3.51 ERA, 37 saves last season) is a solid option as a Type B free agent that won’t require any draft picks. Most likely he’s going to want to go somewhere with an opportunity to close, however.
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