Allen Craig trade rumors increase

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. -- Entering play Saturday, first baseman-outfielder Allen Craig had the most spring training at-bats of any player on the Red Sox, 40.

That’s no accident. The Red Sox insist Craig’s workload is related to their desire to give him as much playing time as possible after last season’s disappointing performance that followed his 2013 foot injury. Talent evaluators following the Sox, however, maintain that the added exposure is tied to the team’s desire to trade him to alleviate their crowded outfield situation. And with a week left before the team breaks camp, there was talk here that the Sox were close to trading Craig, though that could not be confirmed Saturday afternoon.

Craig, acquired from St. Louis along with pitcher Joe Kelly in the John Lackey trade, is under contract with the Sox for a guaranteed $25.5 million through the next three seasons. The team holds a $13 million option for 2018, with a $1 million buyout. Craig batted .300 or better three straight seasons for St. Louis and hit .375 against the Red Sox in the 2013 World Series despite a foot injury that caused him to miss the last 22 games of the regular season and the first two rounds of the playoffs.

But Craig struggled last season, batting just .237 for the Cardinals and only .128 in 29 games for the Sox after the trade. He refused to blame his injury, but his mechanics were clearly impacted at the plate.

So far this spring, Craig has posted a .275/.348/.400/.748 slash line, with 11 hits, including two doubles and a home run.

"He’s not a project," Sox hitting coach Chili Davis said this spring. "He’s a proven hitter, and he’s piecing it together again. I’ve had sessions that were beautiful in the cage, and he's starting to feel like himself again. He just needs to get at-bats.

"He was hurt last year. He was in a different environment last year; he was traded in the middle of the year. Not to make excuses, because he doesn’t make excuses, that’s why he stayed in the lineup. He’s that kind of person.

"He knows what he can do. He’s a quiet, confident person. Actually, I’m real happy he’s here. He’s a veteran hitter, he’s an RBI guy and he’s proven himself and knows what he’s got to do. I’m just here to try to help him along and I know he’s going to get there. He’s going to get there and I’m truly hoping he’s here when he gets there, because he’s going to do some damage and help us win some ballgames."

But as the Sox roster is currently aligned, it’s hard to see where Craig would get playing time. Manager John Farrell and GM Ben Cherington already have to figure out how to make room for Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Shane Victorino into the same outfield, and switch-hitter Daniel Nava gives the Sox depth in the outfield and at first base. Brock Holt is another outfield option, and Jackie Bradley Jr. and Bryce Brentz represent organizational depth. Bradley began the day batting .389, behind only Betts (.487) and Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman (.390) in the Grapefruit League.

Which is why the speculation is growing louder that Craig will be dealt before the end of camp. At this point, it remains a rumor, but there is no question that clubs have had at least preliminary discussions with the Sox about the 30-year-old Craig.