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Allen Craig willing to play third; Allen Craig unable to play third

Allen Craig is trying to find a space in a crowded Red Sox lineup, but just because he's willing to play third base doesn't mean he's actually capable.

Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

Allen Craig is currently a man without a position in Boston. First base is taken by Mike Napoli, left field by Hanley Ramirez, and DH by David Ortiz. He's also a man in need of no small number of at bats. After a 2014 lost to injury, Craig's career is in danger of stalling if he doesn't get the chance to prove that he can still produce at the level he has in years past.

To that end, Craig is looking to make himself more versatile, telling the team he's willing to cover third base if called upon:

A bat with the upside of Craig's at the hot corner is certainly valuable. The Red Sox should know, after all, since they just spent $95 million on Pablo Sandoval in the offseason. The problem--ignoring that whole Sandoval thing for the moment--is that Allen Craig cannot play third.

Alright, so that's a bit of an exaggeration. Yes, Allen Craig can stand at third. He can apply his experience from first base to the new position and, technically, log however many games he's asked to at the position. But he can't play third. Even before first his knees and then his feet got in the way, Craig was never much one for defense. He could pass at first and left the way so many other big bats with limited gloves do, but "fringe average" was probably the best description.

More is expected of a third baseman, however. And that's on the average team. On the Red Sox, a team which has built its entire run prevention strategy around ground balls and defending them, Pablo Sandoval's glove is hugely important. Having him and Pedroia flanking Xander Bogaerts is what should make this whole thing work.

Slot Allen Craig in at third on any given day, however, and suddenly the entire left side of the infield is vulnerable. We're only talking about a game-to-game basis, here, but if an idea is bad in a large sample, it's probably pretty bad in a small one as well, even if the impact might not be all that noticeable.

There's upside to this, of course. There's always upside where Allen Craig is involved, but it's always at the cost of the team. The 2015 Red Sox are a worse team at full-strength with Allen Craig on board than they are with Daniel Nava on board for the simple reason that the Red Sox really need a good lefty bat on the bench given how right-handed they are. That might mean selling low on Craig. It might mean watching him go back to hitting well somewhere else. It might mean doing that while Mike Napoli suffers through a bad year at the plate, or Hanley Ramirez gets injured in May*.

That's the decision the Red Sox have to make. They have to weigh what Craig provides as depth against what Nava provides as a rare left-handed bat off the bench (and, to be fair, in depth himself). Given all the trade talk, it seems like their preference is to get themselves out of this particular investment.

If that trade never materializes, however, and they're left with Allen Craig, he'll probably wind up playing some third, yes. And it won't be because the Red Sox actually think he can handle himself there any better than Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez handled their brief outfield appearances. It will be because they've decided it's worth sacrificing some runs early in the season if it means protection against disaster later, or even a chance for long-term value from a rejuvenated Allen Craig further down the line.

*Knocking on all the wood!