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Allen Craig vs. Daniel Nava: Who should the Red Sox keep?

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The Red Sox almost certainly will have to deal an outfielder before Opening Day. If it comes down to Allen Craig vs. Daniel Nava, who should they hold on to?

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It is my opinion that Shane Victorino should absolutely be kept around for the 2015 season. Yes, there are injury concerns, as well as performance concerns. Still, he can be a valuable insurance policy for Rusney Castillo. I’m as excited for the two young outfielders as anyone, but I think last year was a valuable reminder for everyone that putting too much faith in newcomers to the league can be a recipe for disaster. Without Victorino, the backup plans for Castillo and/or Betts are frightening. The other options are putting Allen Craig or Daniel Nava in right field every day, an especially scary proposition at Fenway. They could call up Jackie Bradley Jr., who can clearly handle the defensive role, but his offense is obviously a question. Or they could shift Brock Holt to the outfield again, but then they’re just left with a hole at utility infielder. Victorino is the best option, and his health issues become less worrisome with the reduced playing time this plan entails.

Assuming Victorino is held on to, the Red Sox would still likely need to move another outfielder, though. There is no feasible way to keep three outfielders on the bench (Victorino, Craig and Nava) along with Holt and Ryan Hanigan, an issue Marc covered on Monday. So, the only logical conclusion in this scenario would be that either Craig or Nava has to go. Which one is the better option to keep?

2015 Production

The first area to look at is who will be a more valuable player for the 2015 Red Sox, regardless of any other future context. We’ll start with Craig, who had a borderline great career going before completely falling off last season. We’ve gone over the struggles here enough, I think, so I won’t go too in-depth on this. But after putting up a 136 OPS+ from 2011-2013, the now 30-year-old’s 2014 OPS+ plummeted to 66 last season, including a 22 (TWENTY TWO) mark in 107 plate appearances with the Red Sox. It would be safe to assume he can be better than he was last season, but just how close he can get to his pre-2014 production is a big question. A totally healthy offseason should be helpful, of course, but it is no sure thing.

Daniel Nava, on the other hand, is a safe bet for solid-if-unspectacular production at the plate. Over the last three seasons he’s hit .278/.364/.403, good for a 112 OPS+. In two of those three seasons, he was essentially a league-average hitter, and that’s a good expectation for 2015. There’s a little bit of upside here with the possibility he will ditch switch-hitting, but not nearly as much as there is for Craig.

Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

In terms of production for next year, it all comes down to what you’d prefer from your bench. If you want upside, Craig is your guy, as there is some potential there for him to bounce-back to his All-Star caliber offensive production. If you’d prefer a high floor, Nava is your guy. You know what you’ll get from him, and it has value, even if it won’t blow anyone away.

Fit on the 2015 roster

Of course, it’s not just production in a vacuum that matters, though. These players are not good enough to shove onto the roster however they can, like they did with Hanley Ramirez. They need to have a clear fit. Defensively, they are extremely similar. Both players can play in right field in a pinch, but neither should be there on a consistent basis. Both are much better fits in left field if they’re going to play in the outfield. And both can fill in at first base if something happens to Mike Napoli.

Offensively, it’s pretty clear that Nava is the better fit, due to his (mostly) left handedness. It’s been covered a lot in the last few months, but the Red Sox offense is overwhelmingly right-handed. The only non-righties are David Ortiz, Pablo Sandoval and Brock Holt. Victorino could be considered here, but he’s as much a lefty as Nava is a righty. I’ve already outlined why being too right-handed isn’t a huge issue for the Red Sox , but if everything else is equal, Nava being a lefty is an advantage over Craig’s right handedness.

Future Value/Fit

While questions over how players fit immediately is a chief concern for a contending team, future concerns obviously matter as well. Craig is guaranteed $26.5 million over the next three years, with a $13 million option for 2018. That could be looked at in two ways. The optimistic viewpoint is that Craig will rebound to become a great hitter again, and that contract will be a relative steal. The pessimists among us look at that as a terrible deal, guaranteeing three more years to an aging batter coming off a borderline historically bad season. As far as his future fit in the lineup goes, his best bet is as the team’s future first baseman or designated hitter. You don’t keep someone on that contract to be a bench player for his entire tenure, and with a full outfield for years to come, the possible departures of Napoli and Ortiz are his clearest roads to playing time. Of course, he’ll need to have a good 2015 before those spots can be handed to him.

Nava’s future financial profile is a lot easier to swallow, though that obviously comes with less upside on the field. This is his first arbitration-eligible season, and MLB Trade Rumors projects him to earn slightly less than $2 million in 2015. There is very little room for his future role to improve beyond backup outfielder, though there’s an outside chance he could at least be part of a platoon at first base starting in 2016. But even if he remains a backup, he’d be a capable one at an affordable price.

Trade Value

When you’re looking at what player you want to deal, the only concern can’t be who brings the most to the table for the Red Sox. Part of the issue is who will contribute the most for other teams and bring back the most in a trade. Craig’s potential to bounce back and become a fearsome hitter could be very enticing for other clubs. In fact, there’s already been some reported interest in him across the league. It’s unclear what kind of return he’d bring, but the fact that multiple teams could be in talks means the return will be at least somewhat useful.

Nava, on the other hand, probably doesn’t carry too much value in a trade. Yes, he’s a solid player, but he profiles best as a bench player. He could start on a lot of teams, but he’d be a bottom-of-the-lineup player who works best in a platoon. He’s also a year older than Craig with about 1/10th of the upside. In terms of pure trade value, Craig would likely bring back significantly more.

Conclusion

Before I get to who would be the best player to move, it’s important to note that nothing needs to be done now. In fact, the smart move would likely be to wait until spring training to make any move unless someone blows them away with a trade proposal. Waiting gives them a chance to hold on to their depth in case an injury occurs some time in March. On top of that, it will give teams a chance to see if there’s any tangible improvement in Craig’s swing that could add to his trade value. However, if everyone remains healthy and a move needs to be made, it is Nava who I would hold on to. He’s a safer bet to perform in 2015, even if his ceiling is far behind Craig’s. He fits much better with this roster in 2015, and is more affordable moving forward. On top of all of that, he’d most likely bring back less in a trade. He may not be the better overall player, but Daniel Nava makes more sense to keep than Allen Craig.