What do the dates January 13 and January 26 have in common? Those are the dates that Scott Boras clients Carlos Beltran, Derek Lowe (both 1/13), and Alex Rodriguez signed free agent contracts with the Mets, the Braves, and the Rangers, respectively. I mention it because that thumping you hear is the quickening of many St. Louis Cardinals’ fans’ hearts as the fear that Matt Holliday will slip from their grasp spreads throughout the Midwest.
As a resident of Houston, I saw the same sort of thing happen just five winters ago as the Astros, the ostensible leaders in the clubhouse for Beltran’s services, saw the Mets whisk him away under the cover of a slightly better offer and supremely larger limelight. The Astros put all of their eggs in Beltran’s basket in the winter of ’04-’05 and were left with few options when Beltran signed with the Mets. (The Astros instead put utility outfielders Willy Taveras and Jason Lane in the outfield and won a National League pennant in 2005). Today Cards’ fans are fearful of a similar event happening to them and point to the calendar as their evidence that Holliday, too, is slipping away.
|**The Cardinals can’t afford to put all their eggs in Matt Holliday’s basket lest they end up with those eggs in their faces, as the Astros did when Beltran spurned them 5 years ago. ** (Icon/SMI)|
It’s not the calendar that Cards’ fans should fear, however. The Cards should, on the other hand, fear their backup options slipping away. At this point it doesn’t appear as though Jason Bay is on the team’s radar, just as it appears as though Mike Cameron never was. The team’s plan B seems to have fallen through now that Mark DeRosa is primed to accept a two year, $12 million contract to become a Giant.
DeRosa would have been a solid acquisition (or return) for the Cards if they are not able to sign Holliday since DeRosa would be able to play either left field or third base. The Cards are primed to begin the season with rookie David Freese at the hot corner and DeRosa would have been able to fill in at third if Freese failed or stay in left if Freese demonstrated that he could handle the demands of playing everyday. Speculation of DeRosa’s return to St. Louis seems to be moot at this point as he’s apparently moving westward.
The team’s plan C apparently is Xavier Nady who would, unquestionably, be a big step backward from Holliday. Those who are already declaring that the 31-year old Nady will be one of the best value signings of the offseason must not have seen the numbers that indicate that Nady has only had one season since entering the big leagues for good in 2003 where he’s been worth more than 1.2 wins above replacement. He’s basically a league average hitter, playing league average defense, at a corner outfield position. Dan Szymborski’s ZIPS projections at Baseball Think Factory have Nady projected for a .780 OPS while Sean Smith’s CHONE projections at Baseball Projection have him projected for .769. Nady’s career average OPS is .792. By replacing Holliday with Nady, the team would probably be going from Holliday’s 5.5 to 6 wins to Nady’s 1.5 to 2. A team with division, league, and major league championships on its mind is going to need those four wins. Thus, signing Nady would probably necessitate spending more money on another starting pitcher such as Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, or possibly even bringing back Joel Pineiro.
As long as Nady, Damon, Beltre, and the pitchers remain unsigned, the Cardinals can afford to be patient with Holliday and Boras. But with DeRosa’s signing, the team’s clock speeds up just a little bit and it will speed up quite a bit more, not as the pages of the calendar turn, but as those free agents drop off the board. The Cardinals cannot afford to be left standing with no substantial acquisitions when the music stops playing if they intend to repeat as NL Central champions in 2010. Many in Cardinal nation are ready to give Holliday a 24 or 48-hour take-it-or-leave-it offer and move on to someone else. It’s too early for such a dramatic step but if many more of these free agents start to come off the board, we may not be too far from that step. At some point, the Cardinals may have to do exactly that which will put Boras and Holliday in the unenviable position of either settling for the Cards’ offer or calling the team’s bluff. The clock is, therefore, ticking for both the team and for Boras. In the interim, Boras has to come up with another suitor for Holliday’s services before the Cardinals get tired of watching plans C, D, E, F, and G go off the board.