You may have to excuse me for a minute as I walk into an empty room, shut the door, pump my fist, and give out a primal scream. You see-- I've been calling for the Red Sox to acquire Allen Craig for almost two years now. Two years ago I called it "a pipe dream" of mine to get Craig. This week it became a reality. As a bonus, the Red Sox acquired Craig for John Lackey-- who I have never been particularly fond of. As an additional bonus, the Sox even got a decent, young starting pitcher in Joe Kelly.
I have to temper my enthusiasm, however. I understand that Allen Craig is not the same player he was in 2012 when he had 22 HRs, 92 RBI, and a .307 average. He has never been the same since a gruesome ankle injury late in 2013. This year he has struggled to the tune of a .237 average with only 7 HR and 44 RBI. The Cardinals found themselves benching Craig for most of the last month. Rookie Oscar Taveras beat out Craig for playing time. When Craig did play, he found himself batting as low as seventh in the lineup as opposed to his traditional clean-up spot.
Craig turned 30 this month. So what should Red Sox fans expect? I still think he is a .300 hitter. He is not a power hitter. I've always thought he stands too far away from the plate for my taste. He struggles with breaking pitches low and away. He is a great fastball hitter and feasts (.316 average over the last three years) on left-handed pitching. He has more power to the opposite field than he does to the pull side. Craig may break the record for Wall-ball singles in a season. That's because Craig is also one of the slower baserunners you'll ever see.
The problem I've seen with Craig this year has been his inability to elevate the ball. He has been a groundball machine. According to FanGraphs, Craig has hit 56.5% groundballs this year as opposed to 38.2% in 2010. He has hit only 24.3% flyballs this year as opposed to 39.3% in 2010. When he has elevated the ball, he seems to have merely warning track power this season.
So why am I so excited about Craig? Don't get me wrong-- I would have been more excited to get him before last year's ankle injury. I still think he is trying to get his balance and confidence right at the plate. If he does, I'd project Craig for 20-25 HRs, 100-110 RBI, and a .300-.315 average over the course of a full season. Would you take that?
If Craig gets straightened out, he provides the Red Sox with a reliable right-handed, run-producing bat in the middle of the lineup to protect David Ortiz. Yes-- Craig is the one I am counting to provide that protection for Ortiz rather than newly acquired Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes is getting all the hype right now, but Craig is the better hitter.
Craig played primarily right field for the Cardinals, but is better suited to left field at Fenway. Manager John Farrell has already said that he is going to go with Cespedes in right field and Craig in left field. Smart move. Going forward, I see Craig as a first baseman for the Red Sox. That would mean Napoli will be expendable during the offseason. It wouldn't surprise me to see Napoli get dealt during the waiver period in August.
The Lackey-Craig deal has the potential to be far more lucrative than the Lester-Cespedes deal. As a matter of fact, the Red Sox would be a far stronger team if they made the Lackey deal and kept (and re-signed) Lester. The Red Sox needed one right-handed big bat. Instead, they overcompensated and got two.