Two weeks ago, it looked like the St. Louis Cardinals were going to lose Mark DeRosa, Joel Pineiro, John Smoltz, and Matt Holliday this offseason. Things were looking up for the rest of the National League Central.
And then yesterday, the Cardinals re-signed Matt Holliday to a seven year, $120 million deal. Humbug.
Setting aside considerations about the deal, itself, this is undoubtedly very, very good for the 2010 St. Louis Cardinals, and very, very bad for the 2010 Chicago Cubs. Holliday’s stats may have been inflated by his time in Colorado, but he’s a great hitter regardless. And he’s generally considered a good defensive outfielder – one attempted groin catch notwithstanding. Pairing him with Albert Pujols makes the Cardinals’ lineup solid without even considering what the other six positional players look like.
That all said, there’s much more to this deal than merely “Cardinals retain good hitter.” The deal must be considered, and Holliday’s performance and age must be considered.
Holliday, who turns 30 next week, will receive approximately $17 million per year to play for the Cards until he’s 36. For a team that averages payroll in the high $80 to mid $90 million range, that means Matt Holliday will eat up nearly 20% of that payroll. The Cardinals have Albert Pujols for the next two years at $16 million per year, and Chris Carpenter for the next two years at near $15 million per year. Between the three, the Cardinals are looking at well more than half of their payroll over the next two seasons. What that means is that, when Albert Pujols and Chris Carpenter are free agents in 2012, the Cardinals may have to make some difficult choices. Toss in Adam Wainwright, who is also a free agent in 2012 (but whom the Cardinals can retain on pricey club options in 2012 and 2013), and the Cardinals are very clearly built to win sooner rather than later. The Matt Holliday signing is designed to reap those short term rewards, even if it puts the future Cardinals in a bind.
This, of course, sucks for the Chicago Cubs, whose window to win is also best described as the next two years. The core of the Cubs is getting older, and beyond two years, it’s hard to project what the Cubs will even look like. The Cubs have a fair bit more financial flexibility than the Cardinals, so it’s possible they could completely rework the roster, making immediacy concerns moot. Then again, when it comes to Chicago Cubs fans, immediacy is always paramount.
So was the substantial financial commitment necessary? You never really know with Holliday’s agent, Scott Boras, who said all along that there were mystery teams galore looking to dump truckloads of money on Holliday’s doorstep. With the Mets having signed Jason Bay (to a much shorter and slightly less per season deal), and the Red Sox and Yankees never truly involved, the market for Holliday had to be significantly reduced. Against whom were the Cardinals bidding? No doubt they considered the risk that Holliday would depart too great to dicker for too long. And truly, he does dramatically change the look of their lineup.
That said, how good is Matt Holliday?
His career numbers are, of course, brilliant: .318 hitter with a career .933 OPS. He averages 25 homers and over 100 RBI per season, and you can throw in a dozen stolen bases for good measure. But, the effect of Coors field cannot be ignored. Holliday played every season of his career for the Rockies before last year, and he took great advantage of the spacious and airy confines: his career home numbers dwarf his career road numbers. .351 batting average at home versus just .284 on the road. 1.052 OPS at home, just .808 on the road.
Don’t get me wrong – a guy who hits .284 with an .808 OPS is not a bad player. He’s just not a guy you give a $17 million, 7 year deal. Unless you’re willing to risk your own, personal Alfonso Soriano.
Make no mistake: the St. Louis Cardinals are better for having re-signed Matt Holliday. This is not a happy moment for Cubs fans. But – as is our mantra – we can hope. We can hope that Holliday is not nearly as good away from Coors, and is not nearly as good as he was in his brief time in St. Louis last year. We can hope that this immense contract acts as a boa constrictor on the Cardinals’ payroll going forward. We can hope that it means Albert Pujols goes elsewhere in 2012.
So, I guess… 2012 is the year? It’s gonna happen!