Since being acquired from the Cardinals in 2014, Allen Craig has struggled to find a consistent spot to play in the Red Sox lineup. He wasn't helped by a nagging foot injury, and even when in the lineup, he didn't do much to earn more significant playing time. He batted a paltry .128/.234/.191 during his 2014 stint with the Sox. That's pretty ugly. All of this added up means that his prospects at a starting job in 2015 remain hazy at best. As a result, he has been frequently mentioned in trade rumors throughout the offseason. In fact, some experts believe a trade is inevitable. I can not speak to whether or not they will trade Allen Craig, but I'd love to tell you a few reasons why they shouldn't.
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1. He's a beast when healthy. The foot injury that slowed him down actually happened in late 2013. Even with that, he still managed to hit .315 with almost 100 RBI (97) in only 134 games in 2013. That's not too shabby. The year before that? .307 with 92 RBI in 119 games. More impressive is the .522 slugging. Year before, he hit .315 with a .555 slugging. See a pattern?
Actually there's two. One is that he hits for some pretty darn good numbers. The other is that he doesn't ever finish a season. 134 is the most games he's played in his limited career thus far. Some people view that as a reason to trade him. I view that as point number two.
2. Logjam relief. This one's going to bring about some heckling, but hear me out. What's the biggest problem in the Sox outfield right now? Too many guys. Hanley Ramirez is probably in left, Rusney Castillo figures to slot in center. That means that there is one spot open for Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Brock Holt and the aforementioned Craig. That sucks. The logical approach is to trade an outfielder. I say no, but more about that in point three.
Let's assume Craig starts the season there. Assuming he's healthy, he's going to hit .300. You've got tons of power in the lineup, but who cares if no one's ever on base? As funny as it would be watching the Kung Fu Panda and Big Papi chase each other around the bases in slow motion, it would be way more entertaining if Craig was coming around to slide in to home roughly .300 of the time.
What does that mean for everyone else? It means Victorino becomes expendable. Victorino missed almost the entire season last year. Oh by the way, he's also owed 7.5 million more than Craig in 2015. Oh by the other way, he's never hit .300 in a season in his life. What does that mean? Basically, for at least 2015, Craig is less risk and has a much higher ceiling than Victorino. And if (let's face it, when) he does get injured, Betts/Bradley will have had some more time to season in the minors. In recent history, the Sox have been bad with bringing prospects up to early. Let's leave the young guys down for a little longer and let Craig hit .300 in their stead.
Now don't get me wrong, I love Victorino too. He's energetic and fun and he has a sweet nickname. Besides, they probably couldn't get much for him in trade anyway. So I say keep him. And instead......
3. Trade Mike Napoli. Everyone seems to have forgotten that Craig was a first baseman. You think playing first wouldn't help that foot stay healthy better than playing the outfield? Yeah, much less strain. Napoli is 3 years Craig's senior and is owed a whopping 10.5 million more next year. And over the last three years, Napoli has missed almost as many games as Craig, so you aren't realistically taking much of a risk. The addition of Pablo Sandoval makes Napoli's power expendable, and his .257 career BA does not necessitate his return. He only has one year left on his deal, let's trade him now while we can still get a decent return.
4. Lastly, his contract is team friendly. He is owed an average of 8.5 million over the next 3 years with a club option for 2018. 8.5 million is not a bad price for a .310 hitter. It's certainly better than paying 16 million for a redundant power hitter with a mediocre average (albeit, a pretty good OBP) and too many Ks.
Do I think the Sox will keep Craig? No. It seems as though they have their heart set on sending him packing, and the preliminary depth charts have slotted him in as the backup 1B in the event he stays. It seems like a waste to me. The only thing that gives anyone pause is his foot, which has already been established to be not in need of further surgery. A recovery seems likely, and his contract is light enough to justify the risk. If it doesn't work out, we would get to see Brock Holt play some 1B. I don't think anyone would complain about that. Keep the Craig. It makes too much sense not to.