Baseball BeatJuly 24, 2009
Breaking News: Cards Deal For Holliday
By Rich Lederer

ESPN's Buster Olney is reporting that the St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics have completed a trade, sending outfielder Matt Holliday in exchange for third baseman Brett Wallace, outfielder Shane Peterson, and righthanded pitcher Clayton Mortensen.

Shortly after the news broke, Brian Gunn, everyone's favorite Cardinals blogger when he was maintaining Redbird Nation during the middle part of the decade (has it really been four years, Brian?), sent me an email with his initial thoughts and asking for my "more objective opinion." Here is our exchange, which took place only minutes ago...

Brian: Supposedly the Cardinals just traded Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen, and Shane Peterson for Matt Holliday. This is an email I wrote to some friends of mine about my reaction. Any thoughts? (My gut reaction to this deal was very negative, so I might be trying to talk myself into something. I need a more objective opinion.)

As I see it, the pros to the deal are:

1. It makes us better this year (we have a very winnable division, and Rick Ankiel can no longer start)

Rich: Yes, for sure.

Brian: 2. We can sign Holliday long term (he's not that old -- 30 in January, and we don't really have any major league OFers in the pipeline).

Rich: Uhh, maybe (although I don't see that happening unless the market for corner outfielders remains as weak as it was last year). No hometown discounts from Boras. Just check with the Angels re Mark Teixeira.

Brian: 3. Holliday runs and fields well, and he rarely gets injured, so he could age well.

Rich: I would agree with that. He is a good athlete (one of the best HS QB when Carson Palmer was a senior). He is also a good clubhouse-type presence from what I can tell. The latter might be more important down the stretch than how he ages because I don't see the Cardinals signing him longer term.

Brian: 4. Wallace is impressive, but not THAT impressive -- he took a tiny step backwards this year and he can't field and you can't move him to first.

Rich: Right. He can hit, more for average than power. I see him as a .300 type with 20 HR (maybe 25-30 in his peak season). He has big, thick thighs and will be a liability on the bases and at third base longer term. His future is at first base, which was taken last time I checked. However, he could have filled the gap at the hot corner, then moved to first just about the time Albert Pujols leaves STL to don the pinstripes.

Brian: 5. The move placates Tony La Russa and Pujols -- keeping Pujols happy is huge, and keeping TLR happy is also fairly necessary, especailly if you want Dave Duncan to stick around.

Rich: Makes sense on all fronts.

Brian: 6. If Holliday walks after this year, we could get a type A draft pick (which is basically how we got Wallace just 2 years ago).

Rich: Or two type A's, no?

Brian: 7. Mortensen hasn't shown he's any good. (Peterson, I don't know much about, but he does look like he can get on base, and he's only 21, so who knows. Although I don't know why Billy Beane was in the driver's seat so much that he could demand those 2 extra players. Wallace should've been enough.)

Rich: I'm very familiar with Peterson as he played his college ball at Long Beach State. A good average, gap power-type hitter. Could play corner OF or 1B. I like him but am unsure as to whether he projects as a starter on a championship-caliber team, a starter on a second-division club, or as a backup.

Brian: The cons:

1. We gave up too much. We probably could've had Adam Dunn (a better player, despite his awful fielding) much more cheaply, and I doubt the A's were getting any better offers, plus they basically had to move Holliday, so we should've been in more of a position of strength with them.

Rich: I prefer Holliday over Dunn in the NL. I think the latter's outfield defense is so "poorish" that he would be a problem, particularly on a "pitch to contact" type staff like STL.

Brian: 2. Holliday is not a huge bat -- he's never slugged .500 away from Coors (not in any season on the road, and not this season in Oakland).

Rich: I pointed out his good but not great road stats last year and many sabermetricians made a big deal out of his outstanding OPS+ rather than his home/road splits, thinking this was a better way to evaluate him. I beg to differ but what do I know?

Brian: 3. Holliday is overpaid -- important when you consider trying to sign Pujols (plus Joel Pineiro after this season, plus arb to Ryan Ludwick), and with Boras as his agent will stay overpaid.

Rich: Yes, yes, and yes.

Brian: 4. The move might indicate that La Russa, and not John Mozeliak, wears the pants in the Cardinals family -- not terribly encouraging.

Rich: I wouldn't let that minor issue, if true, bother me too much. Mike Scioscia has a say in personnel with the Angels and that's totally fine by me.

Brian: 5. Holliday is about to turn 30 and his defensive stats have been slipping -- perhaps he won't age so well.

Rich: Again, not terribly important in my mind.

Brian: 6. Combined with the Chris Perez/Mark DeRosa deal, this is another sign the Cards are cutting corners on 2010-2015 at the expense of 2009, and I'm still not sure we're good enough to get past the Dodgers or Phillies in 2009 (then again, people have estimated the value of making the playoffs -- in terms of increased ticket sales, etc. -- at $25 million on up, so this could play for itself).

Rich: Yes, an important takeaway. Not the first time either, right?

Brian: All in all, the more I think about this deal, the more I think it could be worth it. I think we gave up more value than we needed to, and I don't think Holliday is quite the player people think he is, but I think it's fair to try to go for it now. I guess the deal hinges on whether or not you think of the Cards as a win-now team (and with Pujols and Chris Carpenter at their peaks, and the window closing on both of them -- Carp b/c he's not the most durable guy, Pujols b/c we don't have him signed forever -- I can see the argument for that) or a team of the future (when you look at Colby Rasmus and our decent farm system and all our rookies this year, I can see some argument for that, too). I suppose I lean a little more toward "win now," which sorta outweighs my reservations about the pure value-per-dollar aspects of this trade.

Rich: Flags fly forever.


I can't tell you how much I miss Brian's blog...

I think, after some angst, I come down in favor of this deal. It's essentially Wallace for Holliday and I'm fine with that. With Carpenter & Wainright heading up the rotation, followed by Loshe (or maybe Joel the way he's been pitching) that's a scary two-headed beast in the playoffs. Adding this thunder to the lineup will increase the odds that the Cardinals make the postseason and, as '06 proved, anything can happen. I don't think Albert will leave StL, but I also don't think Carp will healthy or pitching effectively three years from now. Win now, if you can. The "flags fly forever" thing... I like it.

Some random points:

1) Holliday and Dunn are almost equal hitters, and Holliday is over 20 runs better on defense throughout a full season. I'm not sure how anyone could think Dunn is a better baseball player.

2) The La Russa/Mozeliak pants comment was weird when Chris Duncan was just traded.

3) I'm not sure how the Cards "basically" got Wallace from a Type A pick, he was the 13th overall pick, which you can't even get in free agent compensation (Wallace was also only drafted a year ago). Let's not forget too that Mortensen and Peterson were both drafted in the top two rounds.

4) Holliday is not overpaid, well at least yet.

Thanks, Sean.

1) I think Rich ably defended Holliday over Dunn, and I'm inclined to agree with you and him. But I don't think it's a slam dunk. Consider that, so far this season, offensively, Dunn is 10 runs better than Holliday by virtually every metric, which would mean he's almost 20 over the course of the season, which nearly cancels out the 20-run edge you give Holliday on defense. Holliday also costs more, and he's a free agent at the end of 2009 (Dunn is signed through 2010). Again, I agree that Holliday is a better pure player, particularly when you take into account Dunn's execrable defense, but I don't think it's as cut and dried as you make it sound.

2) My comment about TLR wearing the pants was in part based on the Duncan trade. I know that TLR has coveted Holliday for years, and many people think that Mozeliak pulled the trigger on Holliday BECAUSE La Russa was so upset about the way Chris Duncan was treated. Hence my comment.

3) There have been lots of models to estimate the expected future value of draft picks. There is not a huge difference between the expected future value of the #13 pick and the compensatory first-round picks.

4) I think you're right here. Fangraphs has Holliday worth about as much this year as he's getting paid.