It wasn't that long ago that the name Allen Craig could strike fear in the minds of opponents. Case in point, just throw in your 2013 Red Sox World Series DVD and you'll hear the ominous music that accompanies the slow-motion clips of Craig walking up to the plate. Ok, so maybe it was the adrenaline and my inescapable nervousness during sporting events, but I remember feeling genuine discomfort when Craig came up to the plate during that series, getting that pit in my stomach that said something bad was going to happen even if that fear didn't manifest itself immediately.
Craig at that point had emerged as a late but explosive bloomer at the major league level. By the end of the 2013 season, Craig posted his third straight season of more than 2.0 bWAR and had hit .315//.373/.457 during the season, showing a knack for coming through with a big hit with runners in scoring position. It's pretty easy to forget that Craig even received some MVP votes for his performance that year. When 2014 came around, though, Craig struggled with his health, seemingly still dealing with the Lisfranc injury he suffered before the 2013 playoff run, ultimately preventing him from posting numbers close to those his resume suggested he could put up.
Evidently, those struggles left the Cardinals comfortable trading him to the Red Sox alongside Joe Kelly, who Has Great Stuff™, for John Lackey. And given Craig's three previous seasons and reasonable contract through the 2017 season, the deal looked like a potential long-term steal for a Red Sox team that suddenly wasn't confident in Lackey's willingness to play for his league minimum option in 2015.
Joe Kelly and Allen Craig is a great return for Lackey. Wow.— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) July 31, 2014
God, what an idiot.
Things really bottomed out for Craig when he was outrighted off the 40-man roster during this offseason without a wrinkle. Or bottomed out again, since that also happened during the regular season. Craig is a forgotten man in the doldrums of Triple-A at 31 years old, less than three years removed from having dramatic music played behind his at-bats on World Series DVDs. At this point, Craig has become a name that one of my friends will bring up at lunch at some point three years down the line just to induce a laugh. We don't, and can't, expect Craig to become what he was during that World Series. Craig making his way back to that level seems about as likely at this point as me winning the Powerball. Writing off Craig as a non-factor for 2016 feels like a pretty safe thing to do.
Really, there isn't much the Red Sox can do with him at this point. Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski admitted as much to the Boston Herald back in October. "But I also think it's a situation where, for example, last year the club asked waivers on him to take him off the roster and he cleared. So it's difficult to be in a position, when a guy clears, you can see it's not an easy situation to make happen," Dombrowski said. "But if he's not playing with the big league club, I hope something opens up for him."
No team is going to take on the $20 million Craig is owed over the next two seasons; there's very little incentive for anyone to take on any salary tied to his contract at this point. Craig's outright off the 40-man roster means that his salary no longer affects the luxury tax anymore; so really the only tangible impact he has on anything relating to the major league squad is the money that drains out of John Henry's wallet into the Craig family trust. In the last two seasons, Craig has posted bWARs of -1.2 and -0.7; he's added nothing of value from a pure statistical standpoint to a major league roster. Even if the Red Sox took on almost all of the salary left on his contract, there's been little to suggest Craig is capable of making a comeback.
For the Red Sox, the most realistic best-case scenario is that Craig wakes up in the middle of the night and remembers how to hit a baseball and builds his value back up to the point that another team wants to take a flyer on a player of former prominence. Hey, even the Red Sox took a flyer on Bartolo Colon before he seemingly found the fountain of youth (otherwise known as platelet-rich plasma therapy). Unless something goes dreadfully wrong with the Red Sox outfield situation and the team suddenly needs to find a sixth outfielder option beyond Brock Holt, there doesn't seem to be much use for Craig anymore in Boston especially considering that Hanley Ramirez takes over the position that many once expected the former Cardinal to man after Mike Napoli's contract expired.
The question with Craig at this point is not "what should the Red Sox do," but "what can the Red Sox do" with him at this point? Craig's deal expires after the 2017 season with a team option for 2018 that any team would presumably buy out at this point for $1 million. Unless Craig somehow displays signs of returning to a fraction of the form he was when his name was associated with positive things for Red Sox fans at the trade deadline, it's going to be a waiting game, with Craig just sitting in the McCoy Stadium dugout, watching the milk cartons hang from the stands above filled with memorabilia and baseball cards that harken back to a day when his name warranted fear.