VIERA, Fla. — The Cardinals moved to lock up a key piece of their young core Friday, agreeing to a five-year contract extension worth $31 million with first baseman Allen Craig, who also gets a club option for a sixth year in 2018.
The deal comes as a cost-saving deal for the Cardinals and financial security for Craig, who wasn’t even eligible for arbitration until next season.
The slugger had a breakout year in 2012, hitting .307 with 22 home runs and 92 RBI in 119 games after missing the first month of the season due to offseason knee surgery. Craig turns 29 in July and figures to be entering the prime of his career.
“I wanted security for my family and the team thought it was a good idea too, so it’s a tremendous opportunity and I’m incredibly humbled by it,” Craig said. “It’s something I can’t really fathom at this moment but I’m just excited to be a part of this team going forward. I think that’s the main key to this thing. We have a really special thing going on here and to just be a part of it for the next five years is incredibly special.”
The Associated Press reported that Craig will make $1.75 million this season, $2.75 million in 2014, $5.5 million in 2015, $9 million in 2016 and $11 million in 2017. A $13 million club option for 2018 could make the deal worth as much as $43 million.
Not bad for a guy who’s played 250 career big league games since debuting in 2010.
“It was something we’ve been working on for quite some time,” said general manager John Mozeliak. “When you think about how he is as a player, he was looking for an opportunity to have financial security and given the flexibility of him being able to play first and the outfield, it made sense if we could buy out of the arbitration years and get a year of free agency and an option year. I think he’s proven he’s the type of player that when he’s in the lineup he can make an impact.”
Craig has been dealing with a sore shoulder this spring but ironically made his Grapefruit League debut in the field Friday afternoon against the Washington Nationals, just hours after his new deal was announced. He had previously only served as the designated hitter this spring.
The right-handed hitting cleanup man was an eighth-round selection by the Cardinals in 2006 out of Cal and has a career .300 average with 37 home runs and 150 RBI in 783 big league at-bats.
Craig had a big league best .400 batting average with runners in scoring position last season and his .374 mark the past two seasons trails only Cincinnati’s Joey Votto. His is very similar in terms of both dollars and length to those signed at similar times in their careers by Andrew McCutchen, Justin Upton, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson.
“It means a lot because that’s something you are always striving for, to get a commitment from a team and the fact that it’s the Cardinals makes it that much more special,” Craig said. “Its been a tough road to get to the big leagues and stick and get playing time and whatnot but along the road I’ve had a tremendous opportunity to play for Tony La Russa and play with Albert (Pujols) and Lance (Berkman) and Carlos (Beltran) and Yadi (Molina) and Matt (Holliday) and the list goes on and on. I’ve been extremely blessed to put the Cardinal uniform on and I’m just glad that it’s going to continue.”
Added Mozeliak, “I do think it was a deal that worked well for both. We look at his career path and it certainly gives him some security that he hadn’t had up until this point. He wasn’t an extremely high draft pick where he had a huge signing bonus. This for him is a very big deal. For us, it gives us some protection in the middle of the lineup for a long time.”