After missing the first month of the 2012 season, St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Allen Craig made the most of his playing time. Appearing in just 119 games last year, Craig led the team in slugging (.522), and was third in home runs (22) and RBI (92). Now the 28-year old will have an entire season to build on those numbers.
The Cardinals moved Craig around quite a bit during 2012, as he had only 91 starts at first. But his production towered over all other candidates at the position. The Cards also used utility-man Matt Carpenter (30 starts), rookie Matt Adams (23 starts) and veteran Lance Berkman (22 starts) as part-time first basemen. The three of them totaled just 10 home runs, and together, knocked in just 66 runs—a far cry from Craig’s numbers.
Now, with a healthy outfield, the team no longer needs Craig to moonlight in left or right. Berkman became a free agent and was signed by the Texas Rangers over the winter, clearing the way for Craig to step in full-time. Adams will be hard-pressed to see as many at-bats this season as he did in 2012, as he will be coming back from elbow surgery, and Carpenter is expected to continue as the team’s primary backup in the infield.
Craig finished 19th in MVP voting last year, finishing behind teammates Yadier Molina and Matt Holiday, but he was a key part of their postseason run. With a pitching staff that’s in early stages of disarray, the Cardinals will rely heavily on their offense in 2013. Specifically, they’ll need a full year of Craig’s bat in the lineup to help lead them back to the playoffs. St. Louis isn’t asking for Albert Pujols type numbers, but a season of batting .290 with 30 homers and 115 RBI is not out of the question.
(JM Catellier is the author of the book Fixing Baseball, a guide to restructuring the Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter: @FixingBaseball and Facebook, and check out his site: www.fixingbaseball.com)