The Matt Holliday Deal, Two Days After



You have got to be kidding me. 

Friday morning, I decided to take a day off. Actually went out of town for the day. Thought to myself, "Nothing big's going to happen today. I'll take off today, then get some writing done over the weekend during the Philadelphia series. Probably after that we'll start to see the Cards get serious about trying to make whatever deal they're going to make." 

So, of course, as I was taking my day off, the Cardinals made their biggest trade since 2002, when they brought Scott Rolen aboard in exchange for Placido Polanco, Mike Timlin, and the No-Hit Kid, Bud Smith

I've asked before, and I'll ask again: why do the Cardinals hate me? 

So how do I feel about the trade for Matt Holliday, you ask? 

When I first heard about the deal, I hated it. Absolutely hated it. Everyone I knew called me, sent me emails, texts, a couple of telegraphs, all wanting to know how I felt about the deal, and every single time I sent back the same reply: "I hate it." I hated it when it was only a rumour; why would I change my mind when it actually happened? 
Now that I've had a couple of days to reflect, I still don't like it, but I don't hate it as much. In fact, it's probably a good thing I didn't write about the trade the day it happened; the resulting column likely would have been a bit, um, shall we say, over the top. 

First off, let me say this: the Cardinals and John Mozeliak gave up way too much for Matt Holliday. I'm not going to break down all the numbers of prospect valuation and cost analysis; if you want the actual numbers, Chuck over at VEB did a very nice job of crunching all the figures. Suffice it to say, Billy Beane just fleeced Mo in this deal, at least from the perspective of actual, concrete value. 

But then again, strict value numbers had very little to do with this deal, of course. This deal was all about the Cardinals leveraging what they had to get what they needed, trying to make this year's team better. 

So first off, did this deal make the team better? Absolutely. The Cardinals just added probably the best left fielder in baseball. I don't make that statement lightly, either; look around the majors, and I don't think there's another left fielder who measures up to what Matt Holliday brings to the table. Manny Ramirez is a better hitter, but we've all seen him in the field. Holliday, on the other hand, is, by most defensive metrics, one of the very best defensive left fielders in the game. Carl Crawford is probably Holliday's equal in the field, but as exciting as stolen bases are, the numbers don't lie. Holliday's OPS+ currently stands at 131 for the season, compared to 110 for Crawford. Jason Bay has much the same problem Manny does, as much of the value he adds with his bat gets lost somewhere in the webbing of his glove. (To be fair, though, Bay does play in a park in Fenway that really hides his defensive deficiencies, so in that specific situation, it isn't as much of a consideration.) 

So yes, the Cardinals did, in fact, make this year's team better. By how much, exactly, is up for debate, as no matter how well he plays, Matt Holliday is still, in fact, one player. That being said, this is going to have a major impact on the divisional race. That's the good in all this: the Cardinals added the best left fielder in baseball to the middle of their lineup. Pujols/ Holliday/ Ludwick isn't quite the MV3 of yesteryear, but it's pretty damned close. Add in the contributions of Colby Rasmus, Mark DeRosa, and Yadier Molina, and this is suddenly one of the more dangerous lineups you're likely to see. Particularly when you start looking at what this lineup is capable of doing against left-handed pitching, which has been a huge issue to this point in the season. 

Now for the bad. First, and the most immediately pressing issue right now, is the fact we're likely going to see significantly reduced playing time for Rasmus. Say what you want, defend La Russa as much as you like, but it's going to happen. You're just fooling yourself if you think Rick Ankiel is going to become just a fourth outfielder on a Tony La Russa led team. At the moment, it actually makes a bit of sense to sit Colby, as he's mired in a tough slump, fighting a sore heel, and could probably use some extra time to work on his swing and try to get things right. That does not, however, change the reality of Colby Rasmus being the future center fielder of the Cardinal organization. Colby is going to be here a long, long time, much longer than Rick Ankiel, and likely longer than La Russa himself. Colby Rasmus losing playing time to Rick Ankiel the rest of the season is a problem, and it's going to happen. There's nothing you or I or anyone else can do about it. 

You're going to hear a lot of people talking about resigning Holliday being a big component to whether or not this is a good trade. Do me a favour: when someone says that, punch them in the throat and tell them that's bullshit. It's bullshit because signing Holliday has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not this was a good deal. If the Cardinals wanted Holliday so badly, they could have simply waited for the offseason and signed him. In that case, they would have lost their first round draft pick in 2010, rather than their first round pick in 2008. Make no mistake, the Cardinals traded three players for two, maybe three months of Matt Holliday. The only way resigning Holliday factors in at all is if the Cards sign him to an extension before the end of the season. If that's the case, feel free to add that in. Otherwise, throat punches and yells of bullshit all around. Got it? 

Next, as for the package itself, I've already said the Cardinals gave up way too much, and I stand by that. Brett Wallace alone was more than enough for Matt Holliday; to give away two additional players is overpaying to a painful degree. The problem, of course, is Billy Beane had the trump card in this situation. If Beane hadn't gotten what he wanted for Holliday, he would have been perfectly happy to take the draft picks after the season. Thus, the Cardinals were put in the unfortunate position of not paying for Matt Holliday, but in fact having to exceed the value of Holliday plus a couple draft picks. It's one of the big reasons I'm almost never in favour of trading away young players for expensive veterans: you're paying a ton for the name on the back of the jersey, regardless of production, and then you start figuring in all the other valuations. When you trade for a guy like Matt Holliday, you're never going to get equal value for what you're giving up. 

What does this mean to the fan base? Well, hopefully it means we'll stop hearing the constant cries of, "CHEAP!!!" from all quarters. If all that comes from this trade is never again having to read on a message board some idiot saying Jeff Luhnow is somehow running this team from behind the scenes and won't allow any of us precious faberge eggs to be dealt, or yet another diatribe from someone pissed off at Bill DeWitt because he's doing the exact same thing here he did in Texas, and the team will be up for sale just as soon as they can get that Pujols guy out of town, then honestly, this trade may actually be worth it. Hell, if we could even just manage to retire the phrase faberge eggs entirely, I might count this trade as a positive. What this means to the fan base is that no, Bill DeWitt was not lying when he said there would be room to add some salary if attendance stayed strong, that the Cardinals are, in fact, committed to winning, and John Mozeliak really is the General Manager. 

And finally, what does this mean for Albert Pujols? Well, remember earlier, when I told you what to do if someone started talking about resigning Holliday? That goes double for when you hear someone talking about how much this deal is going to affect Albert's decision as to whether or not to sign that new long-term deal we all so desperately want to see. Trust me, there's going to be a ton of that sort of talk, that since the Cardinals have now shown they are committed to winning, Albert's contract negotiations are going to be a mere formality. That isn't even remotely true. Don't get me wrong; I'm sure Albert was all kinds of in favour of this deal, and I'm sure he's happy to have a player of Holliday's caliber on board. But make no mistake: the huge dollars the Cardinals are going to have to hand Matt Holliday if they want to keep him will make it harder to resign Albert, not easier. 

In the end, I still don't particularly like this deal. I think the Cardinals gave up too much for a two month rental. That being said, seeing Matt Holliday's name in the Cardinal lineup between Pujols and Ludwick is one of the most exciting things I think I've ever seen in the game of baseball. I think this makes the Cards the favourites to win the division now, though not prohibitive favourites, and that makes me happy. Do I think this trade is going to bite us in the ass, the way the Mark Mulder deal did? Honestly, no. Hitters don't blow up like pitchers do; even with the pitcher Dan Haren has turned out to be, it wouldn't hurt nearly as much if Muldoo had been the guy the Cardinals thought they were trading for. Matt Holliday isn't as good as his Colorado numbers, but he's still one of the elite players in the game. 

So do I worry about the future? Yes. I absolutely do. But for the moment, I'm going to do something I never, ever do, and just enjoy the present. The rest of this season is going to be fun. 

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