One of the biggest storylines of the 2011 season will be Carl Crawford's impact as a member of the Boston Red Sox.
The dynamic left-fielder signed a seven-year, $142 million contract during the off-season and as Opening Day draws near, Crawford will be one of the most closely watched players around the majors.
Expectations for Crawford are high not only in baseball-mad "Beantown" but across what some refer to as "Red Sox Nation." He will be counted upon to energize the Red Sox lineup with his athleticism, naturally blinding speed and raw power at the plate.
Crawford may hold the key for Boston's chances of returning to the Fall Classic in 2011.
He can be penciled in anywhere from top to bottom in the Red Sox batting order and gives manager Terry Francona the envied problem of figuring out where to slot the talented outfielder in his lineup.
Francona likes to tinker with his order, and Crawford is the sort of weapon that he can deploy in a number of ways.
2010 was a career-best year for Crawford, who set personal highs in runs, home runs, RBI and OPS. Hitting at Fenway Park gives him the chance to eclipse his 2007 career-high batting average mark of .315.
Fenway's quirky dimensions could allow him the opportunity to record 40 doubles for the first time in his lifetime. A four-time American League stolen base champ, Crawford usually is able to swipe 50 bases annually.
He, along with fellow speedster Jacoby Ellsbury, will cause the rival New York Yankees problems on the base-paths even with the addition of Russell Martin behind the plate.
Martin's arm will surely be an upgrade over Jorge Posada and Francisco Cervelli, who last year combined for an abysmal 12.4% success rate in throwing out runners. Still, Crawford's wheels make even the most rifle-possessing catchers look ordinary.
Last season underlined why Crawford is considered a five-tool superstar, as it was the first time that he won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger. His complete skill set made it an easy decision for Red Sox owner John W. Henry to fork out a massive contract to secure the left-fielder's services.
It is likely that the Los Angeles Angels will regret not meeting Crawford's asking price, but they won't be the only franchise harboring remorseful feelings.
It is very possible that Crawford will haunt Rangers' general manager Jon Daniels, Tony Reagins of the Angels or Yankees' "money-man" Brian Cashman come October.
Fans could easily make a case why fellow off-season addition Adrian Gonzalez would be just as valuable to Boston's roster. The Red Sox will boast an intimidating "heart of the order" as the powerful Gonzalez will team with David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis.
In years past, Boston carried a heavy 3-4 punch in their lineup in Manny Ramirez and Ortiz but it didn't necessarily take them to the World Series each postseason.
Crawford brings more to the Red Sox than just simply being a supremely-talented ballplayer. He was the face of the Tampa Bay Rays and a confident character in their clubhouse.
Most fans know of his high work ethic and famous off-season workout regimen. Crawford is obsessed with self-improvement and once admitted that being the No. 1 pick in fantasy baseball magazines motivates him to train harder.
Having 142 million reasons to justify his mega deal surely added fire to his determination. The opportunity to play in front of the rabid fans at Fenway and leading the Red Sox back into the playoffs is really what drives Crawford.
He is desperate to get a World Series ring on his finger after suffering the indignity of losing out to the Phillies in five games in the 2008 Fall Classic.
What do you think fans? Can Crawford be the difference maker for Boston this season? Let me hear your opinion below or send me a tweet at http://twitter.com/HartyLFC.