Back in the first days of the offseason, there were two moves that seemed like safe bets for the Red Sox to make:
1) Sign Pablo Sandoval -- The only way they could have been more obvious with their interest was if they'd renamed Fenway "Pandaville"
2) Trade Allen Craig -- Because it just made sense
Even back before the signing of Hanley Ramirez and the Yoenis Cespedes trade, it was clear there was not room for Allen Craig on this Red Sox roster. He hits right-handed while the Red Sox need left-handed bats off the bench. Their outfield was full, and they had a starter at first base. Even their bench had no room if Daniel Nava was to fill that need for a lefty sub.
It's now March 25th. The regular season is right around the corner, and Allen Craig is still on the roster.
It's not that we haven't heard of any trade talks surrounding Craig. The Red Sox have at least had conversations with the Giants, and other teams like the Marlins have popped up at one point or another as potential suitors. You'd think this would be enough. The Red Sox aren't looking to completely eat his salary, granted, but could they really be looking for a significant return for Craig? After all, if they don't trade him, they might well be looking at losing a player like Nava for no return to speak of in the days to come, or at the prospect of having terrible defensive substitutes for an outfield in Fenway that has only one safe position in left.
No, more and more it feels like the Red Sox are less looking to trade Craig than they are willing to be blown away for him, with the default being to keep him on now and into the future. It all feels rather familiar, and that's because we're just one year removed from going through the exact same thing with Mike Carp. He, too, was a power-hitting first baseman with little glove to speak of and no spot on the roster. He, too, had promise of being a quality regular with enough question marks to make potential trade partners hesitate to value him as anything more than a bench player. He, too, was definitely going to be traded in the offseason right up until he wasn't.
Perhaps the Red Sox are just dogmatically opposed to "selling low" on guys like Carp and Craig, so afraid of seeing them go off to parts unknown and blossom into/return to being stars with Boston forever wondering what could have been. But that's no way to run a baseball team, and it's hard to imagine it's really what's holding Ben Cherington and co. back.
Instead, this likely has everything to do with the team's 1B/DH situation. No Red Sox fan wants to acknowledge it, but the days of David Ortiz are coming to an end. He might play another couple years, maybe even three or four if he really beats the odds, but he's 39 now. Guys like Frank Thomas and Edgar Martinez may last until they're 40 or 41, but few and far between are the ones who last that long, and just as rare among those are the ones who last past that point.
Photo Credit: Scott Rovak
No, the time of Ortiz is nearly up. And while Mike Napoli isn't nearly Ortiz' match in age, he's not exactly the picture of youth himself. There was a definite downturn in his power output last year, and if we see any more signs of decline in 2015, it's going to be hard for the Red Sox to convince themselves he's going to last much longer either. That leaves a glaring hole for the Red Sox at two high-offense positions with the bats best suited to fill them regularly running into ridiculous territories in free agency.
So let's acknowledge what needs to be acknowledged: there's no new David Ortiz coming. He won't be replaced, but simply filled in for. The Red Sox may even need to adopt a rotation at the position the way so many other teams do given how overstocked they are at other positions, assuming things work out with a decent portion of their top prospects. Perhaps Rafael Devers becomes something of the sort down the line, but he's too far away to really be putting any stock in him just yet.
But there might at least be an Allen Craig. Just like there may have been a Mike Carp if that had worked out. Even if Craig is just the average of his healthy and injured 2013 self rather than the star of 2011 and 2012, that's huge. If he can hold down first base and bring that bat to the lineup for three years either in place of Napoli, or along with him should Ortiz decide to retire even sooner than predicted, that's one piece of the puzzle answered for the Red Sox.
Diving into Betts' spring training opponents
Mookie Betts has torn up the Grapefruit League, but who exactly has he faced?
What's more, it's a difficult piece solved. The first base market just does not look promising in the years to come. Chris Davis will hit free agency after 2015, and depending on his performance in the year to come will likely either command a top-dollar salary the Red Sox will have no interest in approaching, or not be seen as a realistic answer for the position. And if the years to come might provide some surprising options, right now there's just not that much beyond him even looking ahead to 2017. It's a position where the best players are locked in for almost their entire careers, and the middle-tier is increasingly made up of players who were once top-tier, signed those massive contracts, and have now declined.
Craig, then, could represent not just an easy answer for the Red Sox, but the only one. Remember, there's no "mid-level free agent" button the Red Sox can just press to produce a reasonable signing. Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino were there in 2013, but when there was no answer behind the plate in 2014, the Red Sox were left with A.J. Pierzynski. The willingness to spend a reasonable amount of money is not always met with the availability of a player worth that reasonable amount of money.
Obviously there's every chance this goes awry. Craig might never be a star again. Craig might never even be decent again. He could play terribly for a few months, be designated for assignment, and be remembered as Mike Carp 2.0. And the Red Sox will be out a decent amount of money and whatever return they might have had available to them in the offseason.
But right now that appears to be a risk the team is willing to take, because the alternative might be a hole at first base that just can't be filled without going off the deep end. It could mean seasons lost to starting positions filled by replacement level players. With so much young, cheap talent coming through the system, the risk of losing out financially is just that much less frightening than losing out on talent at one of the farm system's weakest positions. Allen Craig is far from a sure thing, but if it means avoiding another Pierzynski situation--one that could last for years--he's a risk worth taking.