Carl Crawford became a top-of-the-order hitter in his first full big league season, at age 21. Batting almost exclusively in the top three spots, he developed into an All-Star and the best player in Tampa Bay Rays history. He banked the best season of his career in 2010, making his fourth All-Star team, winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards, finishing seventh in MVP voting, and propelling Tampa Bay to an achievement few ever thought possible: their second AL East title in three years. His success was so overwhelming, the Boston Red Sox gave Crawford a seven-year, $142 million contract, the second-richest deal in club history.
Then the Red Sox started the season 0-2. Terry Francona promptly dropped his left fielder to No. 7 in the Boston order -- the lowest Crawford had batted since 2003 -- against Rangers lefty Matt Harrison on Sunday.
But really, it was the other way around. For eight long years, Crawford's managers misused him. Boston's 0-2 start simply offered an excuse to make what might turn out to be one of Francona's smartest moves of 2011.