Allen Craig hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 10th last night, knocking in the winning run to provide the Cardinals with an upbeat end to a rather disappointing series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Craig’s performance has been a pleasant surprise all season for the Cards, both from a statistical standpoint and an economic standpoint. Craig is currently second in the NL among first basemen with a .306% batting average, .541% slugging percentage, and a .901% OPS. Who’s the only first baseman ahead of him in those categories? None other than Joey Votto, the 2010 NL MVP. Not bad company to say the least.

The value he brings compared to someone like Votto really comes into focus when you look at their contracts. Votto signed a 10-year, $225 million contract earlier this year with guaranteed annual salaries of $9.5 million and $17 million for this season and 2013. While Votto’s value in undeniable, locking any player up for such an extravagant amount of money and time is a huge risk, as there is no guarantee of future performance, especially considering  Craig, on the other hand, is currently locked into a 1-year, $495,000 contract. The Cardinals are getting the 2nd best hitting 1st baseman in the National League for approximately 1/20th the price of the #1 hitting first baseman! Purely in economic terms, the Cardinals have one of the most valuable properties in the National League. Any time you get 20 home runs out of a player in only 98 games (projected over a full season, his home run total grows to the mid 30’s)  while paying him less than half a million dollars has to be considered a steal for the front office.

The Bottom Line: All season long, Allen Craig has more than proven his worth to the Cardinals organization. While there is no chance that they will be able to pay him less than half a million dollars to play first base next season, let’s hope the front office figures out a way to keep him here. Whatever contract he signs will be nowhere near as expensive or long-term as the deal Votto got earlier this year, and as we have seen this year, the value he brings to the table is undeniable.