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Former Rays outfielder Carl Crawford hit for a .324 average at Boston's Fenway Park last season. ((Mike Carlson/Associated Press))

Carl Crawford will be asked to help the Boston Red Sox turn around their mediocre record against division opponents, including his old team.

The former Tampa Bay Rays outfielder reached an agreement with the Red Sox late Wednesday on a seven-year, free-agent contract worth $142 million US.

Crawford, 29, had enjoyed a steak dinner on Tuesday night with the New York Yankees, Boston's chief rival in the American League East.

Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein wouldn't directly confirm the move on Thursday at baseball's winter meetings in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

"If things come together the way we hope and expect, we'll be really satisfied," he said.

In 2010, Crawford and the Rays won the season series versus Boston 11-7.

He was strong offensively in those matchups, posting a .324 batting average in 68 at-bats — including a .324 mark at Boston's Fenway Park — with eight runs scored, two home runs, nine runs batted in and eight stolen bases. The eight swipes were the second-most Crawford had against any opponent — he had nine steals against the Yankees.

Crawford, a Houston native, fills a big need for the Red Sox. Last season, Boston outfielders ranked 28th among the 30 major league teams in batting average (.245) and on-base percentage (.317). They also struck out 445 times, fourth highest in the majors.

Gold Glove winner

Crawford, the most sought-after non-pitcher of the off-season, is widely considered the best left-fielder in baseball — he won his first Gold Glove in 2010 — and will be tested in Boston playing in front of the 37-foot high Green Monster. Crawford joins an outfield that projects to have Mike Cameron or Jacoby Ellsbury in centre and J.D. Drew in right field.

At the plate, the four-time all-star can beat teams in many ways after racking up 30 doubles, an AL-leading 13 triples, 19 home runs and 47 stolen bases in 2010. Crawford also drove in a career-best 90 runs and is durable, having topped the 150-game mark in six of his eight full major league seasons.

"He's a difference maker for any club he goes to," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi of Crawford before the Red Sox agreement became known. "He changes the complexion of the game. When he's up, when he's on the bases, he's a great player.

"We've had a chance to see him a lot over the last six or seven years. And he's a pain. That is the type of player he is. You know that any single can be a triple. It's easy for him to score runs."

Crawford spent his first nine major league seasons with the Rays and is the franchise leader in several categories, including hits (1,480), RBIs (592), runs (765) and steals (409).

In Boston, he joins a powerful lineup that already includes designated hitter Ortiz and newly acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and helps fill some of the production lost by the departure of catcher Victor Martinez and possible departure of Adrian Beltre.

With Crawford and Gonzalez, an all-star slugger and Gold Glove first baseman, the Red Sox hope to replicate the power threat they had when Ortiz and Manny Ramirez helped them win World Series titles in 2004 and 2007.

"We did this objectively over months and months and months," Epstein said. "We realized there was a shot if things came together the right way, we could be pretty aggressive on a couple players we really liked."

Several suitors

The Los Angeles Angels had been considered the front-runner to land Crawford, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman met with him on Tuesday night but never made an offer.

"It's a great player. A great move," Cashman said. "They've had two huge acquisitions. They're loading up like they always do, and this is even more significant than a typical Red Sox reload. So they've done a great job so far."

The average annual value of Crawford's contract, $20,285,714, is the seventh highest among current players, trailing only those of Alex Rodriguez ($27.5 million), Ryan Howard's deal that starts in 2012 ($25 million), CC Sabathia and Joe Mauer ($23 million), Johan Santana ($22,916,667) and Mark Teixeira ($22.5 million).

It is the 10th-largest contract in baseball history behind Alex Rodriguez's $275 million and $252 million deals, and agreements for Derek Jeter ($189 million), Mauer ($184 million), Teixeira ($180 million), Sabathia ($161 million), Manny Ramirez ($160 million), Troy Tulowitzki ($157.75 million) and Miguel Cabrera ($152.3 million).

Elsewhere at the winter meetings, the Yankees quickly raised the stakes for their No. 1 target, increasing their offer to prize pitcher Cliff Lee to a seven-year contract. That's up from a six-year proposal worth nearly $140 million.

"He's a premier free agent," Cashman said. "He's worth waiting for."

A person with knowledge of the negotiations told the AP about the increased offer to Lee, without disclosing the dollar amount. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks are ongoing.

Still in play are big-name free agents Adrian Beltre, who played third base in Boston last season, Magglio Ordonez and Ramirez, along with Lee.

"The winter meetings have usually been a lot about first meetings, and we're into second and third meetings," top player agent Scott Boras said. "I've gotten two deals done here. I'm trying to think back to when that's happened. It's been a while."

With files from The Associated Press