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Top stories of 2010, No. 4: Red Sox’ signings of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford

12.28.10 at 8:08 am ET
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For the final 10 days of 2010, WEEI.com will count down the top 10 stories of the year. In what was a memorable 12 months for all four of Boston’s major professional teams, there was a plethora of compelling storylines. The countdown continues with No. 4: The Red Sox‘ signings of free agents Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford.

Check out our previous entries:
No. 10: Kevin Garnett’s return to form
No. 9: Patriots’ playoff meltdown vs. Ravens
No. 8: Marc Savard-Matt Cooke incident and aftermath
No. 7: Red Sox derailed by injuries
No. 6: Bruins’ playoff collapse vs. Flyers
No. 5: Patriots’ Randy Moss saga

Also, make sure to cast your vote in WEEI.com’s poll for the 2010 Boston Athlete of the Year.

For Red Sox fans, the first 11 months of the year provided few things to be thankful for. General manager Theo Epstein‘€™s decision to focus on pitching and defense left the team with few positive results to show for it.

A third-place finish in a season affected by injuries left Red Sox fans in need of a free agency fix to bring hope for the 2011 season. After Victor Martinez was plucked away by the Tigers two days before Turkey Day, Red Sox fans sat at the Thanksgiving table struggling to find something to give thanks for.

Less than two weeks later, the holiday cheer came early, when two of the game’s stars donned Red Sox uniforms. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez‘€™ journeys to Yawkey Way left the Red Sox as the consensus free agency winners and new favorites in the American League East.

The Red Sox entered the offseason with plenty of options to build their 2011 roster. Many experts expected the team to make a run at one of the elite free agent left fielders in Crawford or Jayson Werth, but other potential moves were a huge question mark. Would the Red Sox re-sign middle of the lineup stalwarts Martinez and Adrian Beltre, attempt to trade for more pitching or finally pull the trigger on a deal for Gonzalez?

By late November things looked bleak. Martinez’€™ decision to take a four-year, $50 million deal with the Tigers left the club missing one of its only consistent bats in the middle of the order. In just over a year of games in a Red Sox uniform, Martinez posted hit .312 with 28 home runs and 120 RBIs.  His loss also meant the Red Sox would rely on a combination of a young, unproven Jarrod Saltalamacchia and aging veteran Jason Varitek or another catcher to fill a slot in the weakened Red Sox lineup.

Things would only get worse before they got better for Epstein and the Red Sox. Werth’€™s seven-year, $126 million deal on Dec. 5 not only took one of the two potential Red Sox targets off the market, but also caused speculation that Crawford would price himself out of the Red Sox’ sensibilities.

And then the Adrian Gonzalez saga began. In a three-day span, the Red Sox appeared to have a trade in place with San Diego, reportedly broke off negotiations for Gonzalez and then finally, much to the delight of Red Sox Nation, acquired the lefty slugger. The hysteria that was the weekend of Dec. 4-5 was completely worth it after the deal for Gonzalez in exchange for three top prospects became official on Dec. 6.

The first baseman in 2010 hit .298 with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs and expects even bigger production in future years after calling Petco Park home for his entire career. Over the past five years Gonzalez has averaged a .288 average, 32 home runs and 100 RBIs. His production is even more impressive considering the fact that Petco Park has been amongst the bottom five stadiums in terms of park factors since he’€™s played there.

‘€œYou get there for the first time and everybody talks about it. Nobody really knows until they experience it. You have to play there as the home team to understand,’€ Gonzalez said. ‘€œThis is where I’€™m at, and I’€™ve got to be OK with it. I can’€™t dwell on the fact that I hit there. I would be interested in the future to see what that would be like [to play in another park].’€

With Gonzalez in the fold, the question became: Would the Red Sox be content to drift through the Winter Meetings already holding the winter’€™s biggest offensive prize. After several days of haggling, Epstein hinted as if the club would be satisfied with just one big move. And then the Sox stunned the baseball world.

‘€œHoly [expletive]. Think about that lineup.’€

That was the reaction from a rival GM after word got out that the Sox had landed Crawford. Just like Gonzalez, the Crawford addition was full of theatrics.

The Red Sox agreed to the deal with the top free agent hitter just minutes before the Angels had set a deadline to make a deal with him. At 11:50 p.m. on Dec. 8, the Red Sox finished their offseason triumph.  Behind intense negotiations and a seven-year, $142 million deal, Epstein became the king of the 2011 offseason.

In Crawford, the club added a proven, elite left fielder who not only won the Silver Slugger in 2010 but added his first Gold Glove award. In addition to a fantastic glove and some power, Crawford brings an average of 54 steals a season over his nine seasons in Tampa Bay. With a healthy Jacoby Ellsbury, the Red Sox should vastly improve from the team that finished fifth worst in the league in total steals.

Crawford and Gonzalez’€™s addition set up the Red Sox to have one of the most potent lineups in baseball. The pair give the Red Sox a devastating 3-4 combo that could perform at an elite level for years to come. In addition to being one of the best hitters at their individual positions, each player has won a Gold Glove and has been durable throughout his career. And with Crawford’€™s speed, Terry Francona and Epstein should have more versatility in making moves until 2017.

If Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia can return to form next season and the pitching and defense the Red Sox keyed on in 2010 does not fail them, the Sox could not only have one of the best lineups in the league, they could make a case to be the No. 1 story in 2011.

Read More: Adrian gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Theo Epstein, Victor Marinez