Each day during the season, one of my favorite things to do is check for today’s lineup. It is fun to see where they have Brock Holt playing, who is catching today, and lately, wonder what happened to Allen Craig. If there has ever been a time in the last two seasons to see what Craig can do, the time is now, but the Red Sox don’t seem to be willing to give him any opportunity.
Earlier in the season, you could say Craig was blocked by the underproductive Mike Napoli (.693 OPS in Boston, .915 with Texas, of course). He was then traded. Unfortunately for Craig, Travis Shaw was brought in, though he wasn’t particularly productive at Pawtucket (five homers .674 OPS in 304 plate appearances) and he has flourished, knocking 11 homers and driving in 30 runs while posting a solid .282/.348/.511 batting line in 210 plate appearances. Hanley Ramirez then started working out at first base with an eye toward getting him some time on the field there by the end of the season. The outfield combination of Mookie Betts (.831 second half OPS), Rusney Castillo (OPS up 178 points from the first half), and Jackie Bradley Jr. (.919 second half OPS, though prone to huge slumps and strikes out a lot) started to click as well, blocking another place where Craig might find some playing time.
While these situations have blocked Craig’s playing time in theory. Some further developments have occurred that would indicate that they are just avoiding him despite some possibilities. Hanley was shut down for the season to rest his shoulder for the remainder of the season. When drastically underachieving third baseman Pablo Sandoval (75 OPS+, 100 is league average) went down with a severe respiratory problem (he has played one game in the last ten days) that was later diagnosed as pneumonia, the team could have played the slugging Shaw at third base, where he made his first two starts after his recall in August, and a total of four third base starts for the Sox this season. Shaw has made 106 starts at third base in the minors as a professional and has proved to be a nimble defender despite his size (six foot four, 225 pounds). The Red Sox have opted to give the starts at third base primarily to Holt and rookie Deven Marrero (new to third base this year, starting just three games there at Pawtucket, before the four he has started in Boston).
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Though the outfielders have performed well, couldn’t Bradley have used a day off sometime during his recent slide (five for 52)? Granted they are trying out an outfield of Bradley Jr. in center, Betts in right field, and Castillo in left, but any extra starts that have occurred recently out there have gone to Holt. Shaw could even be given a start in left to try to get Craig some reps at first base. He has outfield experience there. When the Red Sox have tried to limit Dustin Pedroia‘s playing time coming back from injury, newly acquired Josh Rutledge has seen a big chunk (15 starts there) of the playing time at second instead of Holt. The Red Sox could have been getting Holt’s bat in the lineup there rather than putting him at third which has blocked the third base scenario mentioned earlier with Shaw seeing more time there.
The Bottom Line
The Red Sox are going to dump Craig this offseason. This conclusion seems a simple one to me. Though he did not perform particularly well at Pawtucket (.718 OPS, just 18 extra base hits in 399 plate appearances), the team brought Craig up when rosters expanded on September 1 seemingly to take a look at whether he had improved during his time in the minors. When you are going to bring someone up to possibly trade that person, you give them playing time to perhaps increase their value to other teams.
Craig has had two starts and 15 plate appearances since his recall. He has had one start since September 4th and no plate appearances in ten days. When David Ortiz has been taken out of games early (on two occasions this month), Sandy Leon (.173 average) has been the fill-in. Even Leon, as the third catcher, has 16 plate appearances this month, one more than Craig.
One thing that President of Baseball Operations for the Red Sox Dave Dombrowski was known for in Detroit was when he released infielder Damion Easley at the beginning of the 2003 season though he was still owed $14.3 million with two more years, plus a buyout, left on his free agent deal. He did this in favor of Ramon Santiago (led the league in sacrifice hits in 2003), who as we know did not turn into the second coming of Pedroia.
Craig should thank God every day for those who made contracts in baseball guaranteed. Whatever happens, someone is going to pay him at least $21 million dollars over the next two seasons. It could be said that former GM Ben Cherington was played for a sucker when he took on Craig’s contract despite his history of injury (plantar fasciitis in his foot), and lack of production in 2014 for St. Louis (.638 before the trade in 2014 after .830 and .876 in the prior two years). The Red Sox never could have imagined how bad Craig would be, (.428 OPS and five RBI in 183 plate appearances in Boston) but he was still owed all that money and he was traded for a pitcher (John Lackey) who was only owed the minimum league salary for this season (500 thousand) and whose .119 batting average this season isn’t that far below Craig’s abysmal .134. The deal of the century for the Cardinals. For the Red Sox, and the now unemployed Cherington, not so much.
Look for Craig to be released this offseason, and the Red Sox to eat that $21 million he is owed. Clearly, the guy is damaged goods and is not part of the plan for next year.