Transactions among teams in late Spring Training are not uncommon. As rosters shake out, and team needs are better understood, and 40-man spots are needed, and players without options left are shuffled through waivers, teams make moves. You rarely see big-ish name players with big-ish contracts dealt, but it does happen.
The Cubs, for example, are still looking to trade Welington Castillo, a modestly big-ish name, and they’ll look to pull it off near the end of Spring Training. It could happen.
The Red Sox, for another example, are still looking to clear up some of their outfield glut, even after trading Yoenis Cespedes for Rick Porcello earlier in the offseason. Nick Cafardo writes about the team’s efforts to move Allen Craig, specifically, and says that the Red Sox have had scouts watching the Giants, Padres, and Cubs – the implication being that those teams may have, or at least may have had, interest in Craig.
The Giants, especially after the Hunter Pence injury, make a ton of sense, and I suppose you could make an argument for the Padres, who have their own outfield glut, but could maybe use Craig’s bat … somewhere. I don’t rule anything out on the Padres these days, but it’s a head-scratcher. On the Giants, Peter Gammons says they’re not actively pursuing an outfielder:
Despite injuries, Giants not actively pursuing OF. If theydo, they want power. Inquired on Allen Craig,but Sox not interested in selling low
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) March 17, 2015
So, that leaves us to consider the Cubs. There was a time earlier this offseason when adding Craig would have made a little more sense, since he could have been platooned in left field with Chris Coghlan, but the Cubs ostensibly filled that void with Chris Denorfia.
Still, if Craig is healthy and effective, and if the acquisition price was borderline nothing, then I could still see a reason for the Cubs to be sniffing around. After all, the financial commitments to guys like Denorfia and Ryan Sweeney are not so onerous that they’d have to be retained no matter what (Coghlan’s spot, on the other hand, is pretty certain), so maybe Craig could enter the mix as a 4th/5th outfielder/righty pop type. The Cubs don’t have a ton of immediately-available outfield depth if they have an injury or two, something I’ve discussed recently, and Craig is the kind of guy who could be a borderline starter if the Cubs did lose someone for an extended period of time.
But, if Gammons is right that the Red Sox aren’t looking to sell low on Craig, does it make sense for the Cubs to give up much value to get him?
Well, prior to the 2014 season, Craig put together three straight huge offensive years for the Cardinals, coming out of nowhere in his age 26, 27, and 28 seasons (because voodoo magic). The Cardinals were pleased and confident enough to sign Craig to an extension through 2017, which pays him $5.5 million this season, $9 million in 2016, and $11 million in 2017, plus a $13 million team option in 2018 ($1 million buyout). In other words, if Craig is still the 2011 to 2013 guy, he’s signed to a really team-friendly contract, and you’d be happy to give up something good to get him.
But that 2014 season, man. It was really, really bad. And when it comes from a guy who just turned 30, and who had been surprisingly good the years before, it makes you particularly nervous. Between the Cardinals and Red Sox, Craig hit just .215/.279/.315, and everything he did was worse than the years before – his BABIP was .266 after spending some time in the .350 range with the Cardinals, his strikeout rate shot up 5 percentage points to 22.4%, his walk rate dropped a little bit to 6.9%, and his ISO fell from the .200ish range to just .100.
More disturbingly, FanGraphs found that Craig was particularly ineffective against fastballs last year, and pitchers took advantage. In other words, unless Craig was hurt and is now healed, something went very wrong for him last year at a very fundamental level.
Craig was dealing with a foot/ankle issue last year, but no one seems to be interested in offering that up as an excuse for his performance. So, who knows what’s up?
And that’s the risk the Cubs would run if they actually did decide to take a chance on Craig. Maybe it would be worth it if the Red Sox were eating a bunch of salary and getting very little in return (an out-of-options player and a fringe prospect, or something like that), or if the Cubs could swing a “bad contract” swap, but Gammons’ tweet suggests that’s not how the Red Sox are viewing things. And it’s not like they have to deal Craig, who could simply be used as a role player in Boston.
All in all, it’s an interesting discussion for this time of year – we rarely get to talk about trade rumors in mid-March – but I’m not sure Craig’s the right fit for the Cubs, even if they are considering their outfield options. I suspect they’ll be standing pat in that area when the season rolls around, with Coghlan/Denorfia/Fowler/Soler making the team, and guys like Sweeney/Szczur/Lake competing with some versatile infielders for a spot. (Then, when Kris Bryant is ready, the outfield situation – whether by his own presence, or by the chance that he pushes someone like Mike Olt out there – could change once again. But we won’t go too far down that rabbit hole for today.)