I love Allen Craig. If you’ve read anything I’ve written on this blog, or even in the diary I keep hidden in my house away from prying eyes, you already know that. He’s an absolute monster at the plate, and after another nice effort in a 14-2 blowout (about time) against the Astros tonight, his season line is at .382/.437/.737. When he hasn’t been on the disabled list this season, he’s been busy hitting everything hard, both in the gaps and over the fence; always in the gaps and over the fence. Over the rest of the season, his triple slash line will certainly regress to a slightly more human level, but he’s not off to this crazy start by some ridiculous coincidence; the man was born to hit. If you happen across the Craig family album, you’ll find numerous pictures of Allen hitting baseballs even as an infant. In fact, the first ultrasound image of the future slugger actually depicts him homering while still inside the womb. The bottom line? Well, he’s a great hitter.
And yet I still have to admit that I’ve been chewing on the idea of trading him lately. Not because I want to see him go elsewhere, of course. Didn’t you read that first paragraph? I’m unnaturally invested in the career of Allen Craig, especially considering he’s still largely unproven over a full season of at-bats. For some sick reason, I actually think he’s my favorite Cardinal hitter now that Albert’s gone, and my fellow StanGraphs writer agrees with me as far as I know. I — that is to say, we — love Allen Craig. WE LOVE ALLEN CRAIG SO MUCH! But if this team is looking to make an impact acquisition in July, what better player would they have to trade? Consider the reasons.
The Team is Unbalanced
Ah, yes. Again we get a chance to discuss the unstoppable St. Louis offense. The Big Redbird Machine, you might be tempted to refer to them as. They have the ability, if fully healthy, to insert eight good to great hitters in the lineup on any given night if Beltran played center, Berkman played right, Craig played second, and Matt Adams played first. That’s a stupid thing to suggest, and I wasn’t serious, but if they were healthy and Matheny felt like cramming in his best bats at the cost of knees and defense, it could happen, and no one would ever make an out except for the pitcher. Even hobbled and forced to use guys like Adron Chambers and Tyler Greene (and even he has his moments), the Cardinal offense is ridiculous, especially for a National League team.
The same thing cannot be said for the rest of the team. The rotation is holding on for now, but it’s inconsistent at best. With Garcia having a down year, Wainwright experiencing a slow return to form from major surgery, and Carpenter not expected back until after the All-Star break (and who knows how effective he’ll be when he is back), a little protection might be useful. Lance Lynn has been an excellent surprise, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if he got to return to the bullpen at some point this year. The bullpen is also erratic, and although I just mentioned in my last post that I felt it was bound to round into form eventually, it just makes sense that this team might consider subtracting some offense to bolster the pitching situation headed down the stretch into (hopefully) a playoff run.
He Has No Position
Yes, Allen Craig is useful in the fact he can play a serviceable corner outfield. At first base, he looks kind of awkward even though it’s the least important position on the field and his weakness isn’t a big deal. On certain plays, especially ones involving force throws to second, he seems completely out of his element, but again, this is admittedly a small complaint. He doesn’t have the arm to play at third, or at least that’s what the Cardinal talent evaluators thought when they moved him off of the position years back. So while he can fill in at all four spots, he’s really only even semi-comfortable in the corner outfield positions. Even if the team did stick with him at first, they may eventually discover that when playing every day, he doesn’t possess quite the bat for the premium power position on the field, even if he is a good hitter.
He’s Not That Young
Because Tony La Russa refuses to let most prospects get a crack at the majors until they’re 50, Craig will already be 28 in July even though he didn’t receive his first big league AB until 2010. It’s not all TLR’s fault, actually; Allen was already nearly 22 by the time the organization drafted him in the first place. Given his draft age and the fact he never moved especially fast through the minors, he was never young for his level, and unfortunately he’s one of those guys that’s already in his peak years when he finally gets a chance to establish himself. No matter how good Allen Craig is right now, chances are he won’t get any better and will only hit at a high level for the next 5-7 years in the base case scenario. That makes for a pretty short career overall, which is a shame with such an exciting talent.
No One Else Makes Sense to Trade
Think about this. Do you really want to see Matt Adams, just 23, lose at-bats at first base? Do you think Craig is going to steal playing time in left field from Matt Holliday? Would the Cardinals sign Carlos Beltran to play right field for two seasons and then use him off the bench? Would they trade David Freese, someone they feel is much better suited for third base than the player we’re focusing on in this post? Do you want me to complicate matters even more? Okay: Oscar Taveras. We talk about that guy all the time, and we make no apologies. Taveras is making a hard push to be in the majors soon, and where do you think he’s going to play? He isn’t a center fielder, and Holliday is entrenched in left for a long while still. Yes, correct, he’s the team’s right fielder of the future. Even when Beltran’s contract comes off the books, there still won’t be a place for a 30-year-old Craig (who will surely have two MVP’s to his name as a utility player by that point). Someone has to go if Allen Craig is to become anything more than a spare part, and it appears that very someone may end up being Allen Craig himself.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating pulling the trigger on a deal involving Craig for pitching help right now. As injury prone as the Cardinals are, it’s reassuring to have a legitimate bat to plug in at three different positions (four in an emergency, I suppose). If Holliday were to suffer a season ending injury, it wouldn’t be as big of a deal if Craig is around. The same can be said for Beltran. At some point, however, the team needs to make a decision on whether they’d rather have baseball’s most incredible insurance option or a team that balances out better on paper. It’s not an easy call, and if we’re lucky, it will resolve itself without Mozeliak having to dip into the exciting offensive surplus and trade away a good hitter. That would be just heartbreaking, especially if it’s Craig. I’m just admitting that it does kind of make sense in some tragic way. Forgive me, Allen, for I know not what I say.