Allen Craig is ready to wipe the slate clean.
Craig never found his stride with the Boston Red Sox last season after being acquired from the St. Louis Cardinals at the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline. The 30-year-old now has no clear-cut role with Boston, creating an outside perception that he’s a forgotten man amid the team’s roster crunch.
“I think that’s just part of the game. Stuff happens, and the situation is what it is,” Craig said Saturday at the Red Sox’s Baseball Winter Weekend event at Foxwoods Resort Casino. “I’m excited to be here and be a part of the team. We have a great group of guys and a great chance to do some really good things. I’m happy to be a part of it, and obviously I know I’m a good player and that I’ve been an everyday player.
“But I’m here to contribute in any capacity that the team needs me. I’ve always been a team guy, and that’s just the way it is. I play as hard as I can and just do the best that I can.”
Craig is saying all the right things this offseason, but the reality is the Red Sox will have to make some difficult decisions with regards to the outfield. Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, Mookie Betts, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava and Craig all are vying for major league roles. Utility man Brock Holt also is capable of playing the outfield, and Jackie Bradley Jr. is very much on the big league radar despite a disappointing 2014.
This isn’t to say Craig won’t be around come Opening Day. The Red Sox are exploring ways to get Craig additional at-bats — one possibility is him playing some third base — and the club could decide his upside is too high to consider trading him. But rumors have been percolating this winter — not that Craig is paying much attention to them.
“I’m going to play well, and whatever happens, happens, and I’m fine with it,” Craig said. “I’m here to be a good teammate, like I said before.
“To pass on that opportunity to be a good teammate with this group of guys would be unfortunate, so I’m not going to do that. This is a great situation to be a part of.”
Keeping both Craig and Nava is rather redundant since each would function as an additional outfielder/backup first baseman. And since Nava comes cheaper and has succeeded in a bench role before, it’s reasonable to wonder if Craig ultimately will be on the outside looking in when the situation shakes out.
It’s hard to ignore Craig’s track record, though, even if he did hit .128 with a .425 OPS and 36 strikeouts in 107 plate appearances with Boston last season. He was an All-Star with St. Louis in 2013, during which he hit .315 with 13 homers, 97 RBIs and an .830 OPS. Craig drilled a career-high 22 homers in 119 games in 2012 and posted a .917 OPS in 75 games in 2011.
“He carried our team — the Cardinals — for multiple years,” said pitcher Joe Kelly, who was acquired along with Craig last season. “He was the best hitter on our team, hands down.
“We had Matt Hollidays, we had Lance Berkmans. But check out any playoff games, any stats, the guy was our best player, 100 percent.”
Kelly lives 40 miles from Craig. He met up with the slugger earlier this offseason and is encouraged by what he’s seen. The right-hander had a front-row seat for Craig’s best days in St. Louis, and he now hopes to have a front-row seat for better days in Boston.
“He’s definitely motivated, and I can see the drive,” Kelly said. “He’s not nicknamed ‘The Baseball-Whacker Guy’ for nothing. He’s going to go out there and hit some balls hard off that wall.”
If you ask Kelly, he’ll tell you Craig has the potential to “dominate” with the Red Sox if given the right amount of playing time. If you ask Craig, he’ll tell you he’s just happy to be going through a healthy and productive offseason after dealing with foot injuries the last two years.
“I can’t reiterate enough that I feel really good physically,” Craig said. “I’ve had time to lift and just get ready physically and work on some things mechanically and this and that. It’s been good.”
So is Craig anxious to show Boston he’s much better than the guy who wore Nomar Garciaparra’s old No. 5 for the final two months last season?
“I’m very eager to get out there and play some good ball, for sure,” Craig said. “The Red Sox traded for me because they believed in me, so I want to go out there and play well.”
Cheers to new beginnings.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images