Will big gamble stack the Cards?
After weeks of seemingly bidding against themselves for his services, the Cardinals have finally reached an agreement to keep
The previous title holder for largest Cardinals contract was
Even in light of Holliday's new contract, the Cardinals have very few contractual commitments in the coming years. The only other Cardinal guaranteed more than $1 million beyond 2011 is
It's flatly inconceivable that the Cardinals would sacrifice their ability to keep Pujols, who is not only the face of the franchise but the best player in the game and one of the ten greatest hitters of all time, for Holliday, a solid all-around player but one who comes with significant questions about his true level of production given the effects of his home ballparks prior to his arrival in St. Louis. The most likely scenario, really the only one that makes sense, is an increase in payroll. Even with young players such as
So the $120 million question is, is Holliday worth this sudden payroll crunch, particularly with Pujols' future with the team still unknown. Based on his unadjusted overall numbers, Holliday has been one of the best players in the game over the past four seasons. Over that span, he has hit .325/.399/.563 with seasonal averages of 30 homers, 112 RBIs, 110 runs, 43 doubles, and 16 stolen bases (at a hearty 80 percent success rate). Holliday has also emerged as an excellent defensive outfielder during that span. On the surface, he is a deserved star, a middle-of-the-order hitter on a championship team, as the scouts would say.
The knock on Holliday has always been that, as a late-blooming Rockie (his first big season came at age 26 in 2006), he was a product of Coors Field's hitter-friendly dimensions and Denver's thin air. Indeed, his home/road splits while a member of the Rockies were striking. In just 50 more at-bats, Holliday hit 40 more home runs at Coors than on the road, putting up a .357/.423/.645 line at home and a decidedly average .280/.348/.455 line on the road (the average major league left fielder hit .270/.341/.440 in 2009).
When the A's acquired Holliday from the Rockies last offseason (the first in a series of deals that ultimately netted them Phillies outfield prospect
Was it a fluke? Was it the effect of hitting behind the great Pujols? Or was there something else going on? As for hitting behind Pujols, Albert was intentionally walked 44 times in 2009, but just ten of those came after Holliday was inserted in the cleanup spot behind him in the order, and one of those came on the final day of the season in a game Holliday did not start. In his nine plate appearances following an intentional pass to Pujols, Holliday went 3-for-6 with a double, a homer, two walks (one also intentional), a hit by pitch, and seven RBIs. That's impressive, but so small a sample as to be completely meaningless, particularly when one considers that managers rarely have their pitchers issue intentional walks when they're pitching well.
We can gleen more by looking at Holliday's home/road splits while with the A's and Cardinals. It's quite possible that Holliday wasn't as much of a Coors product as he seemed, rather he might just be a homebody. Per the park factors in the 2010 Bill James Handbook, both the Oakland Coliseum and the new Busch Stadium are murder on right-handed home run hitters (the latter of which makes Pujols' success all the more striking), but Holliday homered almost twice as often at home as on the road in 2009, a rate that stayed consistent across his two home ballparks. Indeed, while the Oakland Coliseum is a notoriously pitcher-friendly ballpark, Holliday got on base as often and slugged 62 points higher there than while playing on the road as an Athletic. Holliday is also a career .379/.451/.722 hitter at the new Busch Stadium having hit .377/.442/.677 there as a Cardinal last year and .385/.478/.872 with five home runs in 39 previous at-bats. Those are also small-sample statistics likely to trend back toward his career rates over time, but it's quite possible that they'll trend back to his overall career rates, not his underwhelming road numbers.
The reason I say that is the issue of Holliday's leg kick. Boras made some waves during the General Manager meetings in November when he blamed Holliday briefly abandoning the large leg kick in his swing for his player's early season struggles, then suggested that the decision to abandon the trigger mechanism had come after Holliday did some offseason work with former Athletic
More importantly, Boras' story largely checks out in Holliday's game logs. Boras said that Holliday brought back the leg kick five weeks into the 2009 season and, "from that point on, he was the same player he always has been." Indeed, Holliday was hitting .226/.282/.383 on May 10 of last year, then hit .316/.420/.489 over his remaining 65 games with the A's and was on a tear, hitting .338/.413/.574 in July, when he was traded to St. Louis. Small sample warnings continue to abound, but when you look at those numbers in the larger context of Holliday's career, the four-season run I detailed above, and his all-around excellence and athleticism, it seems Holliday is indeed worth the financial commitment the Cardinals have made to him. Still, the success of the Holliday contract depends as much on Pujols as Holliday. If for any reason the Cardinals come up short in their efforts to retain Prince Albert, Holliday will get the blame, and it will make the fallout from his Division Series gaffe this October feel like a paper cut by comparison.