Red Sox ponder Craig's future in Boston

Versatile player aims to rebound from disappointing 2014 season

Red Sox ponder Craig's future in Boston

BOSTON -- As the Red Sox plot their course for what figures to be a highly eventful winter of retooling, one big question they will have to ask themselves is this: What kind of season will Allen Craig have in 2015?

When general manager Ben Cherington dealt for the right-handed hitter back on July 31, he knew that Craig was having a decidedly down year. And it only got worse over the final two months with the Red Sox.

However, Craig had a strikingly consistent track record as a solid offensive contributor to a winning team before 2014. And at some point, just about every player has a season he'd like to forget.

In other words, there's a strong chance the Red Sox will hang on to Craig for 2015, figuring he's an American League Comeback Player of the Year Award candidate for the coming season.

"Yeah, he has such a strong track record all the way back to his college days, through the Minor Leagues and with the Cardinals," said Cherington. "This was a tough year for him."

Though the 30-year-old Craig was careful never to use his left foot injury from 2013 as an excuse, it does serve as part of the explanation for his downward spiral in '14.

"I think it's certainly a part of it. I had a foot injury last year," said Craig. "The offseason was limited a little bit. I don't want to use that as an excuse, but it was definitely a factor in my preparation for the season. I felt healthy all year, so I don't look back at that as a main reason.

"It just kind of is what it is. But I think that going into this offseason, a little more time, I'll definitely use that to my advantage. I think it will definitely help me and my conditioning, my preparation for next season."

For the Red Sox, it's easier to forecast a rebound for Craig when they can clearly see what might have led to his enormous struggles.

"He had a tough injury last fall that he tried to play through, played in the World Series with it, but I think it's clear it affected his offseason, which probably affected the beginning of his season. ... He was swimming upstream the whole year, and then the trade," said Cherington.

Yes, the human element. Craig had been traded away from the only franchise he had ever known. He was traded from a team en route to the postseason to one that was already looking ahead to next year. The trade was not easy for Craig to deal with.

"You're talking about a guy who had signed an extension not too long ago, who had settled into a place in St. Louis and then he gets traded," said Cherington. "The whole year, there was a lot coming at him, but in the time we've gotten to know him, we've found him to be an accountable guy, obviously an intelligent guy. And he knows what he needs to do this offseason to put himself in a position to be more successful next year. And the track record and his age suggest he will. We knew were getting a guy in a down year, and he's going to fight back from that."

In 97 games for the Cardinals in 2014, Craig hit .237 with seven homers and a .638 OPS. With Boston, he got into 29 games, and he hit .128 with one homer and a .425 OPS.

There truly is nowhere he can go but up next season.

"I know who I am as a player. Things happen in this game," Craig said. "You battle things. Obviously, personally, this season was a little disappointing. It was tough at times. I'm confident in the player that I am. It's going to be good for me to get back home, rest and get stronger for next year."

The way Boston's current roster shapes up, Craig might fit best as a rover than as someone who can hold down one lineup spot. In addition to Craig, Boston's outfield consists of Yoenis Cespedes, Rusney Castillo, Shane Victorino, Mookie Betts and perhaps Daniel Nava. Mike Napoli is the first baseman. David Ortiz is locked in for another year at designated hitter.

But if Craig is hitting, he can give Napoli an occasional break at first. he can fill in for Ortiz against tough lefties at DH. He can get Cespedes or Victorino breaks over the long season.

There is always a need in a lineup for players who did what Craig did from 2011-13, when he posted an OPS of .863 over 1,177 at-bats.

As Craig stood at his locker following the final day of the regular season, he wasn't much in the mood to talk about what went wrong. Instead, he was already looking for ways to fix it.

"Obviously, I had things I learned from. I have some pretty concrete things I can go into the offseason and work on," Craig said. "I think that's the important thing -- to know what I need to do to get better."

Through their own tests, and discussions with Craig, the Red Sox don't think the foot injury will be an issue going forward.

"Nope," said Cherington. "We've had it examined. We don't believe -- he doesn't believe -- it's an issue. So he's just focused on having a good offseason. I think we've done everything we can to make sure that the foot is OK going forward. No further testing needed."

The truest test will be answered by the end of 2015 with the numbers on the back of Craig's stat line.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.