BOSTON -- Carl Crawford donned a Red Sox jersey and cap for the first time on Saturday morning and could barely speak.
It wasn't that he had just signed a seven-year contract worth a reported $142 million, but it was because his voice was hoarse.
"I'm very excited about coming to Boston," Crawford managed to get out in his first public comments since agreeing to the monumental contract earlier this week.
Crawford was a four-time All-Star in nine years with the Tampa Bay Rays and was arguably the best player in that franchise's history. He will stay within the AL East and has possibly made the Red Sox the team to beat in the division for 2011.
"I really wanted to stay in the AL East," Crawford stated. "I was definitely excited about that and happy I was able to stay here."
Still, it wasn't easy for him to leave the only team he's ever known as a professional. Tampa Bay, with a limited budget, could not even think of matching the offer for Crawford
"It's not easy leaving a situation like that," he added. "It's all you know. You know things have to go a certain way and you understand that."
Crawford had an outstanding season in 2010, hitting .307 and setting career highs with 19 home runs, 90 runs batted in and 110 runs scored for the AL East champs. His eight four-hit games were also a major-league best.
The Red Sox were not the only team interested in the 29-year-old Houston native. The New York Yankees were said to have made an overture, but the Angels were apparently close to a deal last week before Boston swept in.
"I had interest in the Angels, but at the end of the day I felt like my situation would be better in Boston," Crawford noted. "It was one of those things that the feeling was so good."
Boston general manager Theo Epstein said the Red Sox had been interested in Crawford since last season when they knew he was going to become a free agent, and their desire only intensified once the offseason began.
"Carl's been on our radar for awhile," Epstein said Saturday. "We flew down to Houston and expressed our interest. We wanted to make sure the fit was good on both sides, and it was."
Crawford, who also won a Gold Glove for the first time in his career, stole 47 bases last season and has led the American League four times in that category. His 13 triples this past season also led the league.
"A dynamic player like this, he can be a game changer for us," Epstein continued.
Crawford was a second-round pick by the Rays in 1999 and is a lifetime .296 hitter in 1,235 games with 104 home runs and 592 runs batted in. Speed has also been a major factor in his game, as his 105 triples are the most among active players and his 409 stolen bases are second-most among active players.
In 21 career postseason games, Crawford has hit .253 with three homers, nine runs batted in and eight stolen bases. He hit .345 in the 2008 American League Championship Series against Boston, helping the Rays to their first World Series appearance.
The Red Sox have made a few moves to reshape their roster. They also acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez from San Diego on Monday, and on Friday officially brought back veteran backstop Jason Varitek on a one-year deal.
"We should have one of the deepest and most dynamic lineups in the league," Epstein said about the two new acquisitions. "We're really indebted to ownership for their commitment to winning. It demonstrates that ownership's commitment is to winning championships."
The Red Sox failed to reach the playoffs last year, finishing third in the AL East with an 89-73 record. Injuries to key players were a huge factor, however, as All-Stars Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis each missed big chunks of the season. Youkilis will switch to third base for 2011 with Gonzalez taking over at first.