The Red Sox have had a difficult time finding something to do with Allen Craig. Well, besides sticking him in Triple-A and trying to forget about him until he gets a spring training invite, anyway. They just don't have the room on the big-league roster for Craig, no matter what he hits in spring training, and keeping him off the 40-man roster has allowed them to avoid having his contract count against the luxury tax.
An opportunity to move Craig -- and at least part of his salary -- might have opened up on Tuesday, however. White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche announced that he would "step away" from baseball, presumably setting him up for retirement. LaRoche, who has been in the league for 12 years, struggled in 2015 after signing a two-year deal with Chicago, and he's had a rough spring in limited duty this year. Like Ryan Dempster with the Red Sox a couple years back, LaRoche might have just decided it's time regardless of the money left on his contract.
So, the White Sox are suddenly in need of a first baseman. They can shift Jose Abreu there, which would mean they are only in need of a DH -- that would open them up to additional options, including an in-house one in Avisail Garcia. Garcia -- whom the White Sox acquired in the three-way deal that brought Boston Jake Peavy back in 2013 -- has struggled in the majors but has performed well this spring. The latter likely means little, though, he was a prospect of some regard not that long ago, so it's entirely possible that Chicago is still searching for alternatives, or, at least, a backup plan.
A look at the remaining free agents at first base is a disheartening one. Jeff Baker is a utility player who can't hit. Corey Hart was last productive in 2012, and now he's 34 and coming off of years of injury issues. Justin Morneau has the highest ceiling, but he also has a history of concussions and their lingering effects that have brought the career of the former MVP to a halt. Morneau played in just 49 games last summer, and even though there is a serious lack of first baseman out there, he's still a free agent just weeks from Opening Day.
The list of players who could pop in at designated hitter, keeping Abreu at first, aren't much better. Delmon Young once again looks like an off-the-field issue waiting to happen, and as for on-the-field, he's the short side of a platoon, anyway. Marlon Byrd is clearly on the downswing at 38. Alex Rios, David DeJesus, Grady Sizemore? Yeah, just give Garcia a shot instead.
That's where the Red Sox can come in, though. Craig is owed $9 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017, plus a $1 million buyout on his $13 million 2018 option. LaRoche was set to make $13 million in 2016 before becoming a free agent, so there is room for Craig in the White Sox budget already -- if Boston packaged Craig along with some cash, the price would be even more palatable for Chicago.
We can't just ignore that Craig was a mess in the majors in 2015, but he also played just 36 games while accruing 88 plate appearances. Life as a pinch-hitter or late-game replacement is tough, especially for a player trying to get things going again. Craig is unlikely to be the player he was with the Cardinals ever again -- he'll be 31 and his last productive season came in 2013 before his foot injury -- but he's still potentially worth a look by a White Sox team who, again, is considering Avisail Garcia as their starting DH, the same Garcia that fans could not wait to see replaced by a free agent just a few weeks ago.
Craig still seems to be able to make contact and get on base -- at least, against minor-league opponents -- but the power just hasn't been there. Maybe he just needs a change of scenery, or a fresh set of coach's eyes, or the opportunity to stick somewhere besides a team that rides around on a bus during road trips. If Boston were to front enough of Craig's money -- say, half of Craig's 2017 salary along with the cost of the 2018 buyout, for a total of $6.5 million or so -- the White Sox might be interested in taking a chance on him. After all, Craig costs less than LaRoche for 2016, and in 2017, they'd only be on the hook for $5.5 million regardless of what Craig is for them, or if he's even still on the roster.
Pushed to app: what's next for MLB after cable?
With the end of cable coming sooner rather than later, it's time to start thinking about what comes next.
What would Boston get back? Honestly, you can't expect much of anything -- this would mostly be to clear a roster space at Triple-A Pawtucket so that players who need the time -- like Sam Travis, Bryce Brentz, and so on -- get it. It would save them some cash, too, which isn't nothing: sure, Craig doesn't count against the luxury tax, but the $21 million remaining to him is still real money, and its presence might keep Red Sox ownership from feeling like they can push over the tax threshold to certain degrees.
Trading Craig would cut into Boston's depth at first base, but not really. Travis Shaw already passed him on the depth chart, and will likely win a job on the bench this year, one that seems him play often to spell Hanley Ramire and Pablo Sandoval, one that will give him a shot to start at first base in 2017 if he continues to hit. After Shaw is Sam Travis, who is not major-league ready, but could be by 2017, which would mean just one more obstacle for Craig to clear.
Boston has no real need for Craig, who at this point is just taking up a spot on Pawtucket's roster but getting paid more than the rest of his teammates combined to do so. The White Sox are in a position to take a chance on a Craig rebound, with the hope that a more stable role, a return to the majors, and a change of scenery could bring back at least some of the old slugger. It's not a deal that needs to happen now -- Avisail Garcia should get a chance to become the player it was expected he'd be -- but it's something to keep in mind as 2016 rolls on.