Is anyone else having a hard time figuring out the market for Matt Holliday? He’s the top free agent on the market this offseason but teams are being noticeably frugal in their spending. Few teams seem interested in paying anyone the $100 million or more that Scott Boras seems to think Holliday is worth. For his part, Boras has already compared Holliday to last year’s top free agent position player, Mark Teixeira, and suggested that Holliday should receive something similar to the eight year, $180 million contract Teixeira received last year from the Yankees. (Insert eye roll here!)
Don’t get me wrong, Holliday’s a very good player. He is not, however, among the upper echelon of major league ballplayers and I think the Cardinals, the Yankees, Holliday, and Boras know that. It’s clear that the Cardinals are interested in bringing him back and, until a few days ago, it appeared as though their primary competition for the left fielder would be the Red Sox. Then, the Sox went and signed Mike Cameron to a great contract. (By the way, there’s been too little discussion about what a great job Boston’s done in spending Holliday’s money and getting BOTH Cameron and John Lackey.) The Mets seem to be all-in on Jason Bay. The Giants, Braves, and Yankees all seem to have no interest. So who is the Cardinals main competition for Holliday?
The Cards, indeed, have significant motivation in bringing Holliday back to the Midwest. Despite his defensive blunder in the playoffs, he was tremendous after being acquired from the A’s and is a potent force in the middle of the reigning NL Central champs’ order.
|**Who is going to emerge as the Cardinals’ main competitor for Holliday’s services?** (Icon/SMI)|
Moreover, with the Cards looking to extend Albert Pujols throughout the remainder of his career, signing Holliday would signal that the Cards are serious about being a contender for the next five to ten years.
But with no clear competitor for Holliday’s services, Joe Strauss over at the St. Louis Post Dispatch gave the world this little nugget earlier in the week: the Cardinals have offered Holliday up to $16 million per year for up to 8 years. Apparently, bidding against themselves in mid-December, the Cards offered Holliday an 8 year, $128 million contract….and Boras passed? Does this strike anyone else as a little strange?
The next day, ESPN’s Buster Olney told us that the offer is really a five year offer. In 24 hours, we went from 8 years and $128 million to 5 years and $80 million? Is it possible they’re both right: that the offer is for five years but could go as long as eight? I just can’t believe that it’s a five year contract with three team option years added to the end. It makes more sense to believe that it’s an eight year contract that would allow Holliday to opt out after five. But isn’t that still a lot to offer someone for whom there’s no competition?
Holliday turns 30 in less than a month. Even if there is some competition — in fact there’s word today that the Orioles may be the “mystery team” that Boras is always searching for — eight years is too many to offer Holliday. Here is a list of all the players who are currently playing with a contract lasting at least eight years: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, Miguel Cabrera, Todd Helton, Alfonso Soriano, and Scott Rolen. That’s it. Seven players in all of major league baseball have contracts as long as the one reportedly offered to Holliday. Four of them are elite players and two of the other three are widely regarded as two of the worst contracts in baseball. The seventh? The Cardinals traded him just a couple of years ago for another bad contract. In a down market, with zero competition, an eight year offer is a terrible offer from Cards’ GM John Mozeliak.
The argument can be made that signing Holliday may increase the likelihood of extending Pujols, though Pujols downplayed the significance of Holliday’s contract Thursday. That has some value. Even so, how much does it increase the probability of Pujols resigning with the Cardinals? Five percent? Ten percent? It can’t be any higher than that. How much surplus value will Pujols’s new contract bring to the Cardinals? $50 million? That’s a discussion for another post but, at $50 million, the most value this should add to Holliday’s offer would be $5 million. The increased likelihood of Pujols resigning with the team certainly isn’t worth 3 years and $48 million.
What about 5 years and $80 million? Going into the offseason, I’d have thought that sounded a little low. A contract in that range certainly invites other teams to get involved in the process. The Mets, should they lose out on Bay, or the Angels, having already lost Lackey to the BoSox and Chone Figgins to the Mariners and with M’s acquisition of Cliff Lee, could try to get in on Holliday if they feel as though they might be able to sign him for eight figures rather than nine. Indeed, maybe the Orioles have already noticed an opportunity to add a very good player to their young and improving lineup. Maybe the Red Sox are willing and able to include Jacoby Ellsbury in a trade for Adrian Gonzalez and then get in the bidding for Holliday.
Failing that, and if the Mets do indeed land Bay, and if the Angels remain out of the bidding, I just don’t see a lot of competition for Holliday. There’s already some doubt as to whether Holliday wants to go back to the American League after struggling with the A’s the first four months of last season. Does anyone really think he’s going to go to Baltimore and play for a fourth place team for the next six years? It seems to me that the money would have to be MUCH better from the O’s for him to decide to play there rather than next to the Gateway Arch. And if the Cardinals can get Holliday for five and $80 million, or even six and $96 million, that would have to be considered a pretty good stocking stuffer for everyone involved this Christmas, though it might be simply a lump of coal for Scott Boras.