Cardinals sign Allen Craig to $31 million contract extension

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Allen Craig was very productive as a part-timer in 2011 and had a breakout year stepping into the starting lineup last season, and now the Cardinals have locked him up long term.

Craig has agreed to a five-year contract that includes a team option for 2018, so he’s now under the Cardinals’ control through age 33. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports that the deal is worth $31 million in guaranteed money.

While technically a five-year deal, the contract includes this season and then covers all three of Craig’s arbitration-eligible seasons (2014-2016) plus his first season of free agency (2017). And then the Cardinals get an option year on his second season of free agency (2018).

It’s a big commitment to a guy who didn’t play regularly in the majors until age 25, but Craig has been one of the best hitters in baseball over the past two seasons while batting .309 with 33 homers, 50 doubles, and an .889 OPS in 733 plate appearances. Among all MLB hitters with at least 600 plate appearances during that time Craig ranks 12th in batting average, 14th in slugging percentage, and 18th in OPS.

Sandy Leon homered twice in one inning, including a grand slam

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Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon achieved a rare feat during Monday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition against the Orioles: he homered twice in one inning. One of those homers happened to be a grand slam.

Leon led off the top of the fifth inning with a solo home run off of Logan Verrett. Verrett continued to get knocked around, giving up three singles and a walk before being relieved by Brian Moran. Moran gave up a walk to load the bases, then a single to knock in a run and keep the bases loaded. Leon stepped back to the plate and swatted a grand slam to left field, making it an eight-run fifth for the Red Sox. The Sox would tack on one more before the inning was mercifully ended.

How often do players homer twice in one inning during the regular season? Not that often. Since 2010, the feat has been accomplished four times in the American League and twice in the National League. The Orioles’ Mark Trumbo was the only one to do it last year.

As for Leon, he’s on track to open the season as the starting catcher in Boston, Jason Mastrodonato of the Boston Herald reported last week.

Phillies release veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday

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The Phillies announced on Monday that the club released veteran catchers Ryan Hanigan and Bryan Holaday. Both were competing for the back-up catcher spot on the team’s 25-man roster. With both out of the picture, that means Andrew Knapp has won that honor.

Knapp, 25, hit a combined .266/.330/.390 with eight home runs and 46 RBI in 443 plate appearances last year at Triple-A Lehigh Valley. He did not have a great spring but has hit well as of late, which likely pushed him ahead of Hanigan and Holaday. Knapp will serve as the understudy to starting catcher Cameron Rupp.