The Worst Contract Nobody Talks About
They are a staple of the offseason as writers pass the time and fill the Twitter feeds while waiting for major trades to occur and spring training to arrive. Stories like “MLB free agents: The 10 worst contracts still on the books.”
The Sporting News story by Jesse Spector contained the usual suspects – Albert Pujols, who is under contract through his age 42 season and is well past his prime despite hitting 40 homers in 2015. Robinson Cano is also gonna get paid until he’s past 40 and he isn’t even performing at the level Pujols is. Jacoby Ellsbury is on the books through age 36, which is pretty late for an outfielder whose best asset is speed.
Guys like Carl Crawford, Josh Hamilton, Michael Cuddyer, and Nick Swisher aren’t under contract for very long but are way overpaid for their current values. Jonathan Papelbon is probably worth at least close to the $11 million he’s owed in 2016, but he’s pretty much hated by his own teammates and fans at this point after the Bryce Harper choking incident – so that’s not really what you want.
Pablo Sandoval would be worth his salary if he weren’t so overweight – something I think would greatly improve his play and at least give him the appearance of caring about how he plays. I don’t particularly hate the Victor Martinez deal, because his age doesn’t concern me (at the DH position), but he’ll need to be closer to the 2014 version of himself than the 2015 version if he wants to truly earn his money going forward.
However, one thing all of these players (besides maybe Swisher, but again, he only has a year left) have in common is that they’re still serviceable MLB players. All except Cuddyer are still starters (or closers, for Pap) who will contribute to their teams, in all likelihood. The issue is that they won’t contribute to the degree that their contracts demand. However, the player I’m going to talk about isn’t on this list. The player I am going to talk about, of course, is Allen Craig.
You might be thinking one or more of the following things right now:
Why is Allen Craig’s contract so bad?
Wasn’t Allen Craig pretty good a few years ago?
Allen Craig is still in the majors?
Who is Allen Craig!?
Let me address each and every one of those possible trains of thought, in no particular order.
First, a brief history of the player who has been named. Raised by parents who were assuredly fans of incredibly generic names, Allen Thomas Craig was born in Mission Viejo, California on July 18, 1984. If my math skills are what they used to be, that makes Mr. Craig 31 years old. Remember that. Allen attended Chaparral High School before matriculating to the University of California, Berkeley and being drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 8th round of the 2006 MLB Draft. Craig broke into the majors in 2010, still with the Cardinals, and remained with the club until the 2014 season when he was traded to the Boston Red Sox along with Joe Kelly in exchange for John Lackey. I wish I could say that this is where things went wrong for our friend Mr. Craig, but I’d be lying.
You see, after his rookie season in 2010, Mr. Craig posted a BA of .307 or above and an OPS+ of 129 or above for three seasons in a row from 2011-13. Craig was an All-Star in 2013, and even received MVP votes (!!) in 2012 and 2013. Then, in 2014, the wheels fell off. Craig hit .237/.291/.346 with a 79 OPS+ in 398 PA for the Cardinals in 2014 before being traded. This was already a far cry from what Craig had done in the past, but not bad enough to warrant me writing this article. What comes next, however, is truly an abomination – please feel free to shield the eyes of your loved ones in the room, lest their nightmares be haunted by the statistics henceforth. After the trade to Boston, Craig managed a line of .128/.234/.191, good for an OPS+ of (NSFW WARNING) 21. Yes, Allen Craig’s OPS was 8 points lower than his damn age in that season.
One could’ve postulated at that point that Allen was in the midst of a down year and the change of scenery from the NL to the AL in the middle of it all was a large reason for his resounding failure in a Boston uniform. Formerly the owner of a career BA over .300 over some 1,500 PA, it wouldn’t be to far-fetched to believe that Craig would benefit from an offseason with Boston, become more adjusted to the team, and at least take a step in the right direction to becoming his former self in 2015.
2015 was just as miserable for our antihero, as he managed to hit .152/.239/.203, once again for a 21 OPS+, in just 88 PA. Over a season and a half in Boston, Craig struck out in just over 35% of his plate appearances (62 out of 173) and managed just six XBH (and only 18 singles). He spend a considerable amount of time in AAA in 2015 before being called up late in the season, only to be returned to AAA just three days ago. So to answer the question: “Allen Craig is still in the majors?” No. No he is not. It’s a fair assumption at this point, barring a huge comeback in AAA, that Allen Craig’s major league career is all but over. Generally guys don’t fall off like that for such a long period of time, at Craig’s age (he’s 31 now, remember?), and come back to be an effective ballplayer.
So, that should’ve answered your all but one of your questions: “Why is Allen Craig’s contract so bad?” Well, now that I’ve sufficiently established how bad Allen Craig has been (and will likely continue to be), I’ll answer that final question. This time, I’m serious – if there are any impressionable youths in the room around you, or perhaps someone in fragile health, please leave the room for their sake before continuing.
In 2016, the Boston Red Sox will pay Allen Craig nine million dollars. Yes, $9,000,000. Nine thousand thousand. Seven figures. But, like all good horror stories, this is going to get worse before it gets better.
That’s because in 2017, the Boston Red Sox will pay Allen Craig ELEVEN. MILLION. DOLLARS. Eight figures! An eleven, with six zeros after it! All for a guy who will, in all likelihood, be riding buses to places like Lehigh Valley, PA and Gwinnett, GA to play alongside guys making $500K.
Thankfully, relief comes cheap for the Red Sox – at least relatively. After the 2017 season, the Sox will have to pay $1,000,000 to buy out Craig’s contract and send him into free agency (or more likely, retirement). That is, unless they want to pick up his $13 million team option for 2018 (insert three crying-laughing emoticons here).
With all that said, the Boston Red Sox are going to pay $21 million over the next 2+ years for a guy who will probably never swing a bat for them again outside of the month of September (and that’s still questionable). It’s not a huge sum of money, and it’s not a terribly long time – but for the return the team is getting (literally nothing), this is by far one of the worst contracts in baseball.
I don’t blame the Cardinals, because when they inked Craig to his current deal, it looked like they were getting a consistent All-Star caliber hitter at a very good price (5Y/$31M from ’13-’17). I don’t blame the Red Sox, because when they traded for Craig (and Kelly, mind you) it looked like he still might be able to recapture whatever he had going on from 2011-13. I really don’t blame anyone in the scenario, as I’m sure Craig isn’t trying to be god-awful, either. Instead, it’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances which lead to someone getting paid exorbitant amounts of money in return for essentially nothing of value.