With the Winter Meetings coming up next week, the Seattle Mariners are in a spot that they haven't been in in quite some time; on the edge of making themselves a legitimate contender in the American League. The club was within one game of making the post season in 2014, and the biggest area of need is in right-handed power, particularly in the outfield.
Well, as luck may have it, the Boston Red Sox are busy making waves in free agency, signing two of the biggest bats on the market in Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, and in the process their roster became a little too cluttered with outfielders. Right-handed hitting outfielders with power. For the time being, it appears to most people that Yoenis Cespedes -- who was recently said to be a bit of a distraction in Boston -- is on the outside looking in at a starting spot, and the general consensus is that the Red Sox will look to deal the free-agent-to-be prior to the 2015 season. As he is a right-handed hitter with power who was recently, he has been mentioned as someone who the Mariners are showing interest in. .
But as the most likely fit from Seattle's roster to trade for Cespedes could be Hisashi Iwakuma, another name that is on that crowded Boston roster and flying a bit under the radar -- and likely at a much lighter cost -- is someone that also was previously tied to Seattle: Allen Craig.
Craig went to Boston at the 2014 deadline from the St. Louis Cardinals along with Joe Kelly for starter John Lackey and a minor leaguer in the middle of a forgettable season for him, and his arrival in the AL didn't make things any better. Craig limped to the finish line with a .128/.234/.191 line with a 33.6% strikeout rate in 107 plate appearances in Boston.
But a look into the not-so-distant past paints a much different story for Craig. The now 30-year-old former 8th round pick in the 2006 draft didn't debut in the major leagues until 2010 at age 25, but he finished in the Top-20 in NL MVP voting in both 2012 and 2013, hitting a combined .311/.364/.488 while seeing time at first base and both outfield corners for St. Louis. And after excelling with home runs in Games 3, 6 and 7 of the 2011 World Series, his injury during the 2013 World Series was one of the main conversation points as to what could tip the scales one way or the other as Craig had at that point solidified himself as the Cards' cleanup hitter.
Even taking the lost 2014 season into account, Craig's numbers compare favorably to the ones that Cespedes has put up since the start of 2012. To the stats:
Cespedes has hit for a bit more power, both in terms of home runs and in Isolated Power, but Craig has been on base at a better clip, walked at a higher clip and struck out at a lower clip. Those are all good things, especially for a Seattle club that struggled in each of those departments. Craig has also hit very well versus left-handed pitching, owning a career slash of .285/.323/.514 against southpaws including OPSing over 1.000 twice (2011 and 2012). The Mariners OPS in 2014 was more than 60 points lower (.697 to .636) against left-handed pitching, surely thanks in part to their lefty-heavy lineups. The injury history is a concern with Allen, as the 30-year-old has averaged just 126 games over the last three seasons, but the production has been there even in that abbreviated role, and the Mariners would have options to rest him some with so many left-handed hitters on the 40-man. And while Craig, who was drafted as a shortstop, has graded out fairly poorly overall defensively in that time, a lot of that can likely be attributed to his being moved around to different positions. Craig has played over 1,000 innings combined at the outfield corners and over 1,000 at first base in the past three seasons and has also seen time as a big leaguer at second, third and center. While he isn't someone that would be consider plus at any of those positions, his versatility could be useful for the Mariners.
Another mark in the plus column for acquiring Craig should definitely be cost. The aforementioned down season and injury history is one thing, but he also has what some teams -- especially those considering him as only a part-time or platoon player -- could consider a burdensome contract. But as Seattle's most likely trade pieces are young controllable players, it makes more sense to them to receive back a player with more than just one season worth of club control in place. Craig has three seasons at $25.5m at least left on his deal, with a team option for 2018. Obviously that deal doesn't look great if Craig doesn't recover, but if he's able to come close to replicating his average production from 2012-2014 during the life of that deal, the dollars become a great value.
So what would it cost for the M's to land Craig? That, of course, is always hard to determine, especially with Craig coming off of such a down season and clearly left without a place to play in Boston, but it is known that the Red Sox desire to add starting pitching. It's possible that the M's and Red Sox could get together on a deal that nets Seattle Craig while costing what most would deem an non-vital piece of the roster, such as a young, controllable right-handed bullpen arm, like Brandon Maurer or maybe even just a minor league prospect. The teams could also fall in line as parts of a much larger deal that could get the Red Sox a bigger starter with Seattle moving one of it's young shortstops, Brad Miller or Chris Taylor.
However they make it happen, I think that Allen Craig could be a very nice, buy-low, under the radar type of add that could help put the M's in the hunt as a legitimate contender for a playoff spot and post-season run in 2015.
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