Today, the St. Louis Cardinals made a move to stay in first ahead of the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. The club brought in left-fielder Matt Holliday to hit behind Albert Pujols and offer some semblance of protection.
The Cardinals could certainly use it, as their .768 OPS from the cleanup spot is the 12th worst in the National League, worst in the Central. Holliday’s current .454 slugging percentage might not offer much hope for improvement, but Keith Law is optimistic:
Holliday started his tenure with Oakland horribly, bottoming out after an 0-for-7 performance in an extra-inning loss to Seattle on May 3 and an 0-for-4 performance the next day against the Angels. Since then, in exactly 300 plate appearances, he has hit .310/.413/.492, more in line with his skill set and history. … The knock on Holliday at the plate has always been that he can’t handle heat — throw him hard stuff, especially in on his hands or up in the zone, and he can’t catch up. He’ll now move back to the National League, which has less velocity overall and more starters who survive with fringe-average or below-average fastballs. So there’s good reason to believe he’ll improve his performance by more than the typical player who leaves both the American League and Oakland’s cavernous park.
Well, that certainly bodes for improvement.
Holliday will almost certainly get an arbitration offer from the Cardinals, but with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees losing their left-fielders (and the Yankees also losing their DH) it wouldn’t surprise me to see Holliday play the field and decline any arbitration offer. The Cardinals are taking a big risk here, hoping that they can hammer out an extension for Holliday before he hits the market. With Scott Boras, that’s highly unlikely. Their offer of arbitration could be enough to have Holliday rejoin the Cardinals on a deal around $15 million (he’s currently making $13.5 million, so that figure is conservative) but it might be their only hope if the Yankees and/or Red Sox get in a bidding war for Holliday. It’s this question mark that has teams panning the deal based on what the Cardinals gave up, but I’m not of that mind.
The Cardinals sent three prospects to Oakland to complete the deal: Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson.
Brett Wallace, 22, is a bad-body third baseman who should have no problems hitting once he arrives in the majors, which could be as soon as this year. In Triple-A, he’s hitting .293/..346/.423. When he first gets started at the major league level, he’s unlikely to crank 30 home runs right away, if at all. Wallace shouldn’t have a problem hitting doubles, but home runs are further off, especially in Oakland’s park. With Pujols at first base, Wallace was limited to third for the Cardinals. While he might still stick there the next couple of years, the general consensus is that he’s a future first baseman.
If true, he loses a lot of value quickly — still valuable, but not irreplaceable as his bat would constitute at third. Given all I’ve heard of Wallace, he strikes me as a player who could put up numbers similar to James Loney’s slash stats in 2007: .331/.381/.538. Any such line is a long way off, as Wallace’s Triple-A numbers are less than impressive.
When I look at this deal, I’m seeing the Cardinals trade away a bat they likely could never live with at third, and a bat without transcendent power.
The second of the three pieces, Mortensen, already made his big league debut as a right-handed pitcher. 24, Mortensen pitched three innings in a 10-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants, giving up two earned runs, five hits, one walk and two strikeouts. That’s not all that far off from what I expect Mortensen to settle in at. He may be worth a couple extra wins a year in Oakland than elsewhere, but the overall consensus is that Mortensen ranks as a No. 4. As valuable as pitching is, a No. 4 shouldn’t be too much trouble to give up in a deal.
Peterson, 21, is an outfielder who held a lot of promise last year when he hit .298/.367/.428 with the High-A team. Power was the only thing missing from the game, so scouts were eager to see if that came through this year. Nope. At Double-A, he has just one home run on the year and has seen his value take a hit as he’s also struggled with his plate discipline. He’s not projectable enough to pass judgment quite yet, but right now he sits as a backup outfielder. Given his age and level of play, if the A’s have him repeat the level next year, he could take a leap forward.
I think the Cardinals did well here in acquiring Holliday. To me, Mortensen and Peterson are nothing more than pieces that may or or may not pan out. Wallace is the only one near-certain of doing so, but the viability of his future in St. Louis was very much in question. They turned Wallace into a major league hitter that can get them into the playoffs. With the way their pitching is performing, Holliday gives them a shot at defeating either the Dodgers or Phillies to call themselves NL champions.