The Red Sox sent Allen Craig to Triple-A this past weekend. It's been five years since Craig last spent any significant time in the minor leagues, four since he broke out with a .917 OPS in 2011, three since he earned his first MVP votes, two since he was an All-Star, and one since the Red Sox traded for him.
Over his career, Craig holds a .772 OPS, but the Sox have seen nothing close to that in his time here. It's hard to believe, but Craig's Red Sox career actually constitutes all of 166 plate appearances. If it feels like longer, that's because Craig has been around for a lot more games than he's played in. And, yes, because it's been a torturous process to watch him hit just .130/.235/.192 in his time here.
As bad as it's been, though, Craig's baseball death certificate is hardly signed. The fact is he just hasn't had much of an opportunity to succeed up here. Those 166 plate appearances are concentrated in the second half of a 2014 season that seems to have been ruined by the Lisfranc injury Craig suffered in 2013. In 2015, his playing time has been extraordinarily inconsistent. His first back-to-back starts came on April 25th and 26th. His next would come in his last few games with the Red Sox,
This is not a criticism of Boston's decision to send him down. If they did not necessarily give him the opportunity to succeed, they have never been in much of a position to afford that risk. Early on they had too many bats to get in the lineup, and now that injuries and underperformance have produced opportunities, they're left making somewhat frantic moves trying to turn around a season that is quickly headed in the wrong direction. If Craig's 2-for-15 in his four games "started" (including his complete day at the plate when Hanley Ramirez was injured) had been his first at bats of the year, the Red Sox may have been able to ignore it as a small sample size. But since it came only after another rough month in April, it's damn difficult to justify starting Craig when there are any other options available.
Still, whether we discount Craig's 2014 or not, we have to keep in mind that we are talking about less than 200 at bats. If Craig were not an import, but had developed a certain level of trust in Boston, he may have been starting regularly this year. We don't have to look far back to see an example of the Red Sox sticking with a guy through this sort of difficulty. 55 plate appearances into his 2009 season, David Ortiz was hitting .170/.255/.191. On June 1st, a full 213 in, he was still hitting just .186/.282/.284. Hell, Mike Napoli this very season has looked quite a bit like Craig despite being given a better chance to succeed.
Without that trust, though, Craig had just a handful of consistent at bats to grab a regular spot in the lineup, and he didn't take immediate advantage. So it's down to the minor leagues with him which, frankly, is the best move for everyone involved. Craig, with his diminished numbers, wasn't going to get a real prolonged chance in Boston so long as the Sox are struggling, and he wasn't going to improve so long as he didn't get consistent at bats. The only place for Craig to find his rhythm at the plate, then, is in Triple-A Pawtucket.
Maybe he doesn't. Maybe Allen Craig--an All-Star and MVP candidate--was irreparably broken by that Lisfranc injury. At least this way we'll know. If there's hope for Craig, he'll show it in Pawtucket. If he still can't find his way back playing every day against Triple-A competition, then there will be no reason to suspect he can do anything against the superior competition in Fenway Park. This is obviously not what anyone was hoping Craig would provide the Red Sox, but at least he and the rest of us watching aren't stuck in limbo anymore.