St. Louis Cardinals: Checking in with Allen Craig and Joe Kelly

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Aug 7, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) and left fielder Allen Craig (5) sit in the dugout during the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 7, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Joe Kelly (56) and left fielder Allen Craig (5) sit in the dugout during the game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Boston Red Sox at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
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Former St. Louis Cardinals Allen Craig and Joe Kelly are searching for roles with the Red Sox after enduring turbulent 2015 campaigns

After losing to the Boston Red Sox in the 2013 World Series, if you would have asked me if I saw Allen Craig and Joe Kelly as key pieces in the future of the Cardinals organization, I wouldn’t have hesitated in saying “absolutely.”

A year later, amidst difficult 2014 campaigns, both guys who were drafted and groomed in the Cardinals organization were gone. The two became a package deal for then 35-year-old John Lackey, a move meant to solidify the Redbird rotation for a postseason run.

Apr 26, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig (21) reacts after striking out during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Pittsburgh defeated St. Louis 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 26, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig (21) reacts after striking out during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Busch Stadium. Pittsburgh defeated St. Louis 6-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports /

Sure, both guys were struggling… Craig in a disturbing, free-fall kind of a way. Still, I wasn’t ready to give up on either yet, especially considering what they had meant to Cardinal teams of the past. With hindsight on my side, it sure seems like the move yielded as good of results as it could have for St. Louis.

Joe Kelly first broke into the Cardinals rotation in June of 2012 when Jaime Garcia went down to injury. He finished the season with just a 5-7 record over 16 starts, although he turned in a very respectable 3.53 ERA. At the time, the Cards considered keeping him in the rotation and bumping Lance Lynn to the bullpen when Garcia returned from his injury.

Kelly struggled in Spring Training the following year, and lost his rotation spot to rookie Shelby Miller to start 2013. Kelly was eventually plugged back into the bullpen as a kind of “stopper” in the mid-summer months, and peaked when he turned in a 5-0 record in the month of August. In total, Kelly turned in a 2.69 ERA in 2013 while winning ten of 15 games he started.

Kelly made four starts during the 2013 postseason, losing his only decision in Game 5 of the NLCS against the Dodgers.

Kelly spent the majority of his time in 2014 with St. Louis on the Disabled List, before being activated in mid-July. Up until being traded to Boston on July 31, Kelly had a 2-2 record with a 4.37 ERA in seven starts. He finished 2014 with a 4-2 record in ten starts with Boston.

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Last year, Kelly began his first full season with Boston on the DL. After being activated, Kelly struggled, posting a 2-6 record and a 5.74 ERA in his first 15 starts. However, once again the month of August was good to Kelly. He won all six of his August starts last year, making him the first Red Sox pitcher to win six games in August since Pedro Martinez.

In all, Kelly ran off eight straight victories through August and September before being shut down due to arm troubles on September 15 with Boston far removed from the playoff picture.

Kelly enters 2016 as a candidate for the fifth rotation spot for the Red Sox. There were initially thoughts that Kelly might be traded this offseason, but those ideas never materialized. Now, the 27-year-old right-hander will look to put a full season together and get Boston back into Postseason contention.

The blindsiding free-fall that Allen Craig went into in 2014 is one of the most difficult things I’ve seen as a baseball fan. I mean, this guy hit three home runs in the 2011 World Series. He made the final catch to kick off the celebration of St. Louis’ most unlikely of title runs.

Craig turned in a stellar 2012 campaign, slugging 22 home runs to the tune of a .307/.354/.522 slash line. He was just as good if not better in 2013, slashing .315/.373/.457. He hit just 13 home runs that year, but drove in 97 runs thanks to his .454 batting average with runners in scoring position.

Then, all of the sudden, 2014 happened. Through 367 at-bats in St. Louis, Craig slashed just .237/.291/.346. It got even worse in Boston, where he slashed .128/.234/.191 in 97 at-bats to close out the year.

Craig spent the majority of 2015 in Triple-A trying to find his swing with very little success. In 97 at-bats with Boston in 2015, Craig slashed just .152/.239/.203 with a single home run and just three RBI.

Craig turned in respectable 2.0+ WAR values in each season from 2011 through 2013 with St. Louis. In total, he turned in a -1.7 WAR with both Boston and St. Louis in 2014 and a  -0.9 WAR in very limited action in 2015.

Virtually everyone in Boston has written Craig off for 2016. Even with a big Spring Training performance, Craig is very unlikely to make their Opening Day roster because of the existing depth at first base and the corner outfield positions.

Worse for Boston (better for us) is that Craig is set to make $11 million in 2016. At the time that contract was signed with St. Louis, the money was totally justified. Now, the Sox couldn’t trade away Craig for anything.

The entire Craig situation is just unfortunate for everybody involved. You have to feel for Craig, experiencing such a high level of success only to lose it in what seemed like an instant. It is tough for Boston, because they are paying a guy eight figures whom they don’t feel has any chance of having a meaningful impact in 2016.

I thought that Craig was going to be the perfect successor to Albert Pujols at first base in St. Louis. He could hit for average, hit for power, and he seemed to be as clutch of a hitter as there was in baseball. We could really use some of that production now-a-days, considering the first base lumps the Cards have endured since Craig’s plunge from grace in 2014.

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Outside of a 2016 World Series matchup, I would like nothing more than to see Craig comeback in a huge way this year. Likewise, I would love to see Kelly solidify a role in the Boston rotation and set himself up for a long and successful career. Both guys were key contributors to a whole lot of wins while they were here, and they deserve our support (even as foes) in 2016 and beyond.

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