The St. Louis Cardinals made their biggest roster move in 2014 when they sent Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for Corey Littrell and John Lackey. It was a move that fans questioned, both logically and emotionally.
Craig and Kelly were fan favorites in St. Louis. Kelly was loved for his antics, Craig simply for his ability. In 2012 and 2013, Craig was one of the most prolific run producers in St. Louis. Slowed by an injury sustained in late 2013, Craig simply did not regain his form in 2014.
His lack of production led to his trade to Boston. Shortly after arriving, he found his way back to the disabled list. By the time the season came to a close, Craig had only played in 29 games for Boston, posting a paltry .128 batting average and driving in two runs.
The Red Sox went into the offseason looking to revamp their lackluster offense. They spent $183 million on free agents Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez will make the move to the outfield and assume the starting left field position. Sandoval will become the new third baseman, a position that manager John Farrell had reportedly told Craig to prepare to play.
Craig has spent time primarily in the outfield and at first base in the major leagues. He played a total of 198 games at third base between 2007 and 2008 in the minor leagues. He has also played a few games here and there at second base during his career. His versatility makes him a valuable commodity.
If he is producing offensively, he is worth that much more. It seems the only thing keeping him from doing so is his health, a problem he insists is no longer a concern, according to Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald.
“I can’t reiterate enough that I feel really good physically,” Craig said, via Lauber.
A healthy Craig is a good thing for a team that has a place for him to play. Boston doesn’t seem to be that place.
With Sandoval at third, Mike Napoli at first and Dustin Pedroia at second, the infield is well covered. The outfield—consisting of youngster Mookie Betts, veteran Shane Victorino and the aforementioned Ramirez—seems fairly well set as well. Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava will be challenging for time in the crowded outfield as well.
Indeed, the Boston Red Sox have one of the game’s best hitters and nothing to do with him. It is a similar situation that led to his departure from St. Louis, as the Cardinals didn’t have a clear fit for Craig, either.
The Red Sox may very well use spring training as an audition ground for Craig to show his health and ability to other teams that may have an interest. His back-loaded contract, which will pay him $5.5 million this year but escalate to $9 million and $11 million over 2016 and 2017, makes him an expensive bench option.
Alternatively, the Red Sox could use Craig in a super-sub role this season, the final one on Napoli‘s contract. If he starts to hit the way he claims he can, he could take over at first if the Red Sox elect to not bring Napoli back. It’s a long shot, but it may be the best option over all.
Craig may very well be a productive hitter for the future of a franchise. A player with his abilities tends to find a home in a lineup pretty quickly.
It’s not often that a player who can have that level of impact follows a similar path that Craig will have to.
Transaction and salary in this article courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.