Holliday Returns to the Cardinals

In a stunning turn of events, Jon Heyman managed to break a story about one of Scott Boras’s clients, reporting that Matt Holliday has resigned with the Cardinals for seven years and 120 million dollars with a full no-trade clause.

Make no mistake about it: Although he didn’t receive “Mark Teixeira money,” Holliday, who turns 30 next week, is a tremendous baseball player. Over the last 4 years, he’s accumulated about 24 Wins Above Replacement — an average of 6 wins a year. Of course, the Cardinals aren’t paying for what he’s already done, but what he will do in the future.

What are the Cardinals paying for? The market is still working itself out, but assuming an average market value of $4.4 million per marginal win, seven percent annual salary inflation, and 0.5 WAR a year decline, seven years, $120 million dollars indicates a 4.5 WAR player for 2010. With that number in mind, what is a reasonable projection for Holliday?

CHONE’s context-neutral projection for Holliday’s 2010 offense is .303/.379/.513, 29 runs above average per 150 games. (by the time you’re reading this, Sean may have moved Holliday to the Cardinal’s team page and adjusted for league and park). My own projection is very close to CHONE’s.

Holliday’s defensive reputation may have taken a hit in the minds of many during the 2009 playoffs, but most fielding metrics see Holliday as an above-average left fielder. Earlier this offseason (before most projections had come out), I used UZR and the Fans Scouting report and estimated Holliday’s defense at +4, and Jeff Zimmerman‘s recent UZR projections get the same result. Taking into account the positional adjustment for left field (-7.5/162), let’s call Holliday a -3 fielder per 150 games.

Adding it all up: +29/150 offense, -3/150 fielding, +20/150 replacement level = 4.6 WAR player. For all practical purposes, given the assumptions we’re working with (and dealing only with the guaranteed years of the contract), St. Louis gave Holliday a contract almost exactly in line with his market value.

It has been said before, but it’s worth repeating: paying average market value for a win isn’t necessarily a “dumb” move, but it isn’t “smart” either. It’s “average” …on average. Moreover, straight market value isn’t the only factor to consider in this particular case. Leaving aside the possibility that the actual value of a win might actually be lower this offseason (dropping it down to $4.4 million, the market value of a 4.5 WAR player over 7 years drops to about $109 million), seven years is a long time for a corner outfielder in his thirties. Yes, the 0.5 win-a-season decline curve takes this into account to a certain extent, but when a team gives a player a contract this long, it not only guarantees their “control” over the player, but also gives him a higher degree of security through his likely decline years. For this reason, players usually give something of a “discount” for that security. The Cardinals did not get such a discount. Moreover, the no-trade clause inhibits the Cardinals’ flexibility down the road — and even if Holliday is willing to waive the clause, that is almost always just another negotiating ploy for more money. In other words, that is more value the Cardinals gave up on top of the money for the deal. [I’m leaving aside the vesting option for an eighth year based on MVP voting.]

The Cardinals get a player who should be very good-to great for a couple of years, and above average for maybe a few after that. Perhaps that is worth it to make a run while Albert Pujols is still under contract (and perhaps to convince him to re-sign if there’s enough left in the budget to do so while filling the other 23 spots on the roster). Still, paying market value long-term for a player in his thirties involves a great deal of risk for a franchise, and even without the no-trade clause, an expensive Holliday in his mid-to-late thirties would be very difficult to move if St. Louis needs to do so. The road to ruin for many a general manager and franchise is littered with long-term “average” contracts for players like Holliday — it doesn’t take much of a drop-off (injuries, anyone?) to turn a seemingly “reasonable” contract into an albatross. Flags may fly forever, but the only sure winners in this deal are Matt Holliday and Scott Boras.




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Matt Klaassen reads and writes obituaries in the Greater Toronto Area. If you can't get enough of him, follow him on Twitter.


71 Responses to “Holliday Returns to the Cardinals”

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  1. vivaelpujols says:

    Nice first line… also, kill me.

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    • Michael says:

      How can you not like this deal???

      Oh wait, it’s 7 years with a no trade clause when STL didn’t need to give that away. Riiiight.

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      • NEPP says:

        Came here to say this…good thing they “outbid” all those other teams for Holliday.

        BTW, were there any other teams legitimately in the talks at this point? I seriously doubt he ever even considered Baltimore and all the other big guns were out of the running.

        This deal will kill them in a few years.

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  2. Dan says:

    “Flags may fly forever, but the only sure winners in this deal are Matt Holliday and Scott Boras.”

    —-

    If you think Holliday got fair market value for his services, how is he a sure winner? Yes, if he declines with age quicker than expected, the Cardinals will be throwing away a lot of money. If he maintains his current level longer than expected, Holliday will be getting less than his services are worth. In the end, the risk seems to balance itself out nicely in the middle.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Thanks for the comment. I guess I wasn’t clear enough in the last couple paragraphs — I think that Holliday should have received less money if he was going to get seven years and get a full no-trade.

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  3. Daniel B says:

    Don’t marginal win values and merchandising bump this up from the straight-up value for the Cards a bit?

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  4. CFIC says:

    yeah, this deal seems to be pretty neutral, with Holliday and Boras barely coming out ahead imo. the interesting thing to see in the next year or two will be how this affects Pujols returning after ’11

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    • WY says:

      Yes, we’ll see, but I am quite certain that they made this deal with (a) the idea that they will make a run for Pujols and (b) a specific plan (or set of plans) for how to make the dollars work while (hopefully) keeping both players on the roster for years to come.

      They’ve been plotting this for at least a year (since the first trade talks for Holliday possibly coming over from the Rockies were reported in late ’08). Mozeliak and Co. are not stupid. In short, I am sure they didn’t trade for Holliday without some sense that they would (a) be able to resign Holliday long-term and (b) sign Pujols to an extension as well. And they had to know it wouldn’t be cheap.

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  5. vivaelpujols says:

    4.6 WAR assuming he plays 150 games, which you should never project a guy to do.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      I don’t think 150 is unreasonable — you won’t project a guy to play 162 games, sure… but Holliday has played 150+ 3 out of the last four seasons.

      And don’t forget all the Christmas merchandising!!

      [winky-face]

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      • vivaelpujols says:

        Holliday’s averaged 151 games the past 3 years, and he hasn’t had a serious injury yet. I’d say, that even if you don’t expect Holliday to get injured next year, you have to factor in that chance.

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      • Scottwood says:

        In general, I’ve read that its just best to assume 85% playing time. That comes out to 137-138 games.

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      • FanGraphs Supporting Member

        Scottwood: I generally do the 85%*162 playing time thing… I got it from Tango, but perhaps you read it in my earlier posts, too. I’m being a bit generous to the Cards and Holliday, perhaps… the 0.5 WAR decline phase includes decreased playing time with age. My earlier projection for Holliday linked above had him at about 4.3 WAR… it’s in the same vicinity, and further supports the “should have given a discount” point.

        Thanks.

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      • BX says:

        FWIW, CHONE is projecting 148 games played.

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  6. Eddie says:

    Well there’s the nail in the Cubs coffin next season. Fire Hendry.

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  7. Eirias says:

    I’ll believe when I see him on the field. Heyman isn’t fooling me. I still think Holliday is going to the mystery team. They get all the good players.

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    • NEPP says:

      The Mystery Spot Mysteries are one of the best teams in baseball. They have literally bid on every Scott Boras client in the past decade. I don’t think they lost a single game last year.

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  8. Will says:

    not terrible, but it’s hard not to see this as an overpay

    of course, MH was so enamored with STL during his time there, that he accepted a hometown discount… he was offered a 10 year/160 M contract by the … …

    no ones

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    • chuckb says:

      The “overpay” is in the unnecessary 7th year, in my opinion. It’s not an overpay on a per year basis, but there was absolutely no reason to provide the 7th year. The Cards should have called Boras’ bluff and told him to tell Holliday to go to Baltimore if that’s really what he wanted to do.

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  9. xeifrank says:

    4.5 WAR is too low for Holliday. He’s never even come close to that total and yes I understand the whole “regression” thing. And I wouldn’t start deducting the 0.5 WAR after the first year. Ask yourself this, do you think Vegas would feel comfortable setting Matt Holliday’s 2010 WAR Over/Under at 4.5? My guess is that they would get lopsided action on the “over”.
    vr, Xei

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  10. MBD says:

    So this is why the Braves were dumping salary left and right…wait, StL, not Atl?

    I’m wondering if you’re selling Holliday short, Matt. He has been worth at least 36 batting runs in each of the last 4 seasons, and you’re granting him only 29. He just turned 30, last year was a transition year for him, and he still proved that he could hit outside of Coors. Based on wRC+, his offense has been 40% better than average even when Coors is controlled for. He’s still in the weaker league, facing iffy pitching from the Cubs, Brewers, Reds, Astros, and Pirates. It seems to me that he’ll be worth over 5 marginal wins for at least the first couple years.

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    • TCQ says:

      Aw, that’s just a low blow on the Braves. I’m not over the events of this offseason even a little bit…

      But to continue what you were saying a bit, -3 defensively might be a bit harsh too. He’s managed to overcome the positional adjustment and be a plus two out of the last three years – although, I’m not sure exactly what effect leaving Coors would have on that.

      Anyway, I think it’d be safe to say that Holliday will at least be a wash defensively in a couple of the contract years.

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  11. NEPP says:

    If history has taught me anything its that corner outfielders maintain their ability and production levels well into their mid-30s.

    Right?

    Right?

    Anyone?

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    • WY says:

      Some do, some don’t. Right? Look at Damon, Ibanez, Manny (yes, I know…), Larry Walker — certainly, some of them do.

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  12. Daniel B says:

    For what it’s worth, Boras says there were a few teams with higher annual salary offers with less years. Again, for what it’s worth.

    Also, for what it’s worth, Holliday said he really appreciated the way St. Louis treated him and that he liked the place a lot. Again, for what it’s worth.

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  13. cpebbles says:

    Theoretically, say the Yankees are sitting $30 million under last year’s payroll, with LF as their only real weakness, and they’re expressing interest in Holliday. Is this an okay deal then?

    It seems to me that people are juding this deal more harshly because they take Cashman’s word that the Yankees had no interest in a player that they should be interested in, at the right price.

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    • Eirias says:

      Fair point, my Yankee fandom aside.

      That said, is LF the Cardinal’s only real weakness? They certainly didn’t have much protection outside of Holliday last year. No-one on this site actually believed Cashman when he said the Yankees had no interest in Holliday at the right price. Cash-ninja meme or not, that is a GM’s job.

      Anyway, shifting to the team that actually signed him, I really don’t think that those people who are judging this deal harshly are doing so for any other reason than that the Cardinals slightly overpaid for Holliday’s performance, completely ignoring the possibility of injury, excepting the fact that he probably won’t play 150 games towards the end of his contract, and having essentially given him a no-trade clause as a free bonus. True, much or most of these things are the risks any team takes in signing a major free agent to a long term contract. That doesn’t make this contract any more of a “win” for the Cardinals, though.

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      • cpebbles says:

        You misunderstood the “only real weakness” part. I was talking about the Yankees. The only difference between the hypothetical situation where the Cardinals have to outbid the Yankees and reality is what Cashman is telling the press.

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      • WY says:

        “That said, is LF the Cardinal’s only real weakness?”

        Not necessarily, but it was the clearest position at which they could upgrade. They have above-average players at 1st and C, relatively cheap and roughly league-average players (and possibly better) at 2B, SS, and CF, and a mid-priced RF who is capable of being either average-ish (as in 2009) or well-above average (as in 2008). The rotation is a strength. The bullpen is…not horrible, at least, with some potential upside.

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    • NEPP says:

      Yankees Payroll Obligations

      2009 – $201 million
      2010 – $205 million

      And they have minor holes/arbitration/contract renewal signings that will raise that a little bit more. Also add the luxury tax on top of that and its significantly higher.

      Remember, they added Granderson, Johnson and Vasquez.

      I think Cashman was actually being honest about being at their limit.

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  14. WY says:

    This is a somewhat myopic analysis, although the numerical stuff (while standard for Fangraphs) does add some value, so to speak. The thing is, the Cardinals are built to win now, with Carpenter, Wainwright, and Pujols in or near their primes and La Russa near the end of his career. Furthermore, they have a lot of average-to-good players in the lineup, but (barring a return to ’08 form for Ludwick or marked improvement from Rasmus) no other very good or great hitters besides Pujols. Apart from 3B — at which they have a reasonable (and cheap) in-house in Freese — LF was their only way to upgrade offensively and give other teams some reason to pitch to Pujols.

    I think the Cardinals are probably well aware that the latter years of this contract may hurt a little, but at least it isn’t backloaded. I think this was such an ideal fit for the team in terms of Holliday’s position and skill set that looking at it simply in terms of projected WAR values (especially when they are not out of line with the salary) is not likely to yield the most meaningful analysis. Of course, these instant contract or trade analysis pieces are one of Fangraphs’ specialties. However, the fact that the writers sometimes overlook the team-specific context (or are simply not that familiar with the organization’s overall situation compared to what a local writer or team-specific blogger would be) is certainly a limitation.

    In short, it’s a big commitment and it carries some risk, but this is one of those rare cases in which the Cardinals decided the risk was worth a big-time deal, and I think their reasons for making the deal are pretty sound overall.

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    • WY says:

      P.S. Matt, the generalizations in the latter paragraph weren’t specifically directed at you. This was a useful post, and I appreciate it. Time will tell if it was a wise move, but looking at it now, I think it is a calculated risk that makes a lot of sense when you take into account where the team is at this point and what/where they needed to upgrade.

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      • WY says:

        Whoops, I meant the generalizations in the middle paragraph.

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      • Will says:

        I think you make a fair point, but on the flip side, the Cardinals’ window isn’t going to close after 2010 or 2011 either. There will be other players to resign, pay arb raises, etc. In 2014, they’ll still owe MH a huge sum of money, with multiple years remaining. (And he better stay sharp defensively, as they have no place to put him.)

        I guess when you put it all together, this is just a completely unbalanced deal: they gave MH the $$, they gave him the years, and they gave him a no-trade. It just seems excessive.

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      • WY says:

        You’re right, it won’t totally close after 2011, but they will not still have the 1-2 of Pujols/Holliday along with the 1-2 of Carpenter/Wainwright any longer (though they could have three of four). I can see a decline toward the middle of the decade, but it’s a calculated gamble.

        My question is, What would you have recommended them doing instead of signing Holliday?

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      • BX says:

        Sign several short term commitments.

        ONLY factoring in players still on the market, and assuming they have about 5MM left to spend in addition to the 17MM Holliday commands in 2010 in terms of 2010 commitments. I’m completely ignoring 2011, since the only player who would be guaranteed beyond 2010 would be Chapman.

        Sign Aroldis Chapman.

        Wait for Damon’s price to drop, since the market for OF is pretty much depleted and the Yankees don’t need him, and then sign Johnny Damon to a low dollar 1 year contract with incentives and an option. It happened last year with Giambi and Abreu; it will happen this year with Damon (unless, of course, Sabean overpays).

        Then sign one of Felipe Lopez or Joe Crede. Or, if there’s enough money left, sign Ben Sheets and super-bolster the pitching.

        Just one half-assed way to pull off a smart offseason.

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      • WY says:

        I think they targeted Holliday for a reason. I’d rather have Holliday and Freese for $17.5 next year than Damon and an oft-injured Crede (or Lopez, who is not a 3B) for perhaps slightly less.

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    • John says:

      Agreed. As a Cards’ fan, guaranteeing years 6 and 7 hurts a lot (would have been very happy w/ 5 for high 80 – low 90 MMs), but there is a lot of time between now and 2015 and getting Holliday’s production in 2010-2013 for less than the 2009 cost of Glaus + Khalil Greene is enticing.

      At least the team is spending its precious $$on the elite talent available (best FA on the market, etc) as opposed to the previous 4/41M for Lohse and other such mid-level overpays.

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  15. aNdrOss says:

    http://www.hardballtimes.com/main/article/how-do-baseball-players-age-part-2/

    I’ve been pointing to the research in this article since it came out as a possible redeeming factor to the now-realized Holliday contract. Basically, players whose careers run 5000 or more PAs and who play 10 or more seasons (which, admittedly, Holliday hasn’t done, although given this talent, injury history, and contract he is likely to do), peak offensively between 30-33 instead of the usual 26-28.

    Of course, Holliday is entering those potentially peak years. Take that for what it is worth.

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  16. OremLK says:

    This is going to look like a good contract a year from now, and a terrible one five years from now. This kind of deal risks putting St. Louis into the same situation Houston is in, especially once you add on Pujols and all the other contracts they’re going to have to worry about over the next seven years.

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    • WY says:

      I think it’s a tradeoff in terms of risk that they are willing to take. Not doing something and having this team remain in the 88-90 win range with a pretty good but not great lineup while Pujols, Carpenter, and Wainwright are still in their primes also has its risks.

      You can’t be great every season unless you have Yankees/Red Sox money, but I think it is ok to go (relatively) all-in for stretches and accept that there may be a price to pay down the road. It happened in ’07 when Rolen and Edmonds neared the end of their contracts, and they were able to bounce back relatively quickly.

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  17. Jon says:

    I’ve read the FG primer on UZR and have a little familiarity, but I’m still somewhat of a novice. I don’t quite understand why being a +4 LF translates to “costing” your team runs. Why does the positional adjustment appear to make Holliday a “negative” defensive commodity despite his fairly strong defensive metrics? It appears that a very good LF would still be a negative commodity out there. Is that true? Thanks.

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    • TCQ says:

      Corner outfield spots have a -7.5 positional adjustment. Matt was looking at a “total package” of defensive value, so 4.5-7.5=-3.

      Now, if Holliday is higher than 7.5 runs above average – as he has been twice in recent years – he’ll be a defensive plus.

      If I remember correctly, the positional adjustments run ~ like this:

      LF/RF: -7.5

      CF, 2B, 3B: +2

      SS: +7.5(take this one with a grain of salt, I’m not remembering it well)

      1B: -12.5

      C:+12.5

      They do vary year to year, though.

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      • Jon says:

        I know that there are positional adjustments, but I guess I’m asking whether I’m interpreting them correctly. Holliday, by playing LF 4.5 runs better than the average LF, still plays badly enough to cost his team 3 runs? I know we’re splitting hairs, but it’s something I’ve wondered about re: the adjustments for sometime now. Thanks for responding.

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      • TCQ says:

        I think MBD pretty much nailed that, Jon. Sorry ’bout not hitting on the answer for quite the question you were asking.

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    • MBD says:

      It’s not really that a +4.5 LF is playing badly and costing his team runs. It’s that he’s playing a position that requires less skill than most, so there is a bigger pool of people who can play it. That makes his OFFENSE (and his defense) easier to replace and therefore less valuable. I think the reason they attach the positional adjustment to defense instead of offense has to do with the relative variation of the two from year to year, but check the glossary link (at top) for a detailed discussion of WAR and the positional adjustment. The positional adjustments tell you that a CF or 3b with average defense is worth 10 runs more than an average LF with the same offensive contribution OR that the LF has to contribute 10 extra runs on offense to equal what those other position players produce with bat+glove (assuming each is average for his position) OR that the LF better be Carl-Crawford good in the field if his bat is more average.

      Feel free to correct/refine, folks.

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      • Jon says:

        Thanks guys. That makes a bit more sense. I think what I find difficult to wrap my head around is the “negative” value attached. Off the top of my head, I guess I would make the easiest positions to play, like DH I guess, a value of 0 runs (rather than -12.5) and then add value to that rather than “detract” value from players on the right side of the spectrum. But I think I get why that can’t be done: your “average” defensive player is better than your “average” defensive LF (or DH for that matter), so you make 0=average and adjust on both sides accordingly. Still seems odd, but I certainly can’t think of a better way to manage it. Thanks again.

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  18. Alex says:

    Did you all see ESPN this morning quote Holliday’s WAR values over the last 3 years and cite FanGraphs!?!?

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  19. Jimbo says:

    Here’s the difference between the Cardinals signing Holliday versus the Yankers getting Granderson…team impact. Looking at WAR puts the player in a bit of a vaccum, but I have to think the Cardinals lineup can improve overall simply by adding MH. As stocked as the Yankees are, Granderson doesn’t add much more than his individual WAR…and actually I’d argue a difference between ‘replacement level’ values for each player based on the supporting casts.

    I know it isn’t quantitative, and the idea of “protection” isn’t accepted as truth, but my gut tells me paying him “average” money for his individual production will be a positive value for the team in total. (Offering the contract based on “gut” wouldn’t have been very wise however!)

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  20. MLT says:

    As far as the contract goes, whether we overpaid or not doesn’t seem to be the question. It’s HOW MUCH we overpaid. A lot of Cardinal fans wouldn’t mind shelling out big bucks to core players as long as we can still field a competitive team. This wasn’t a Soriano-type contract, it was a Beltran-type contract, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect similar value from Holliday as the Mets expected from Beltran. We really only overpaid by $1mil per year on a contract that’s only 1 year too long. With Boras negotiating, that’s a veritable coup d’etat.

    My question is how a Pujols-Holliday-Rasmus/Ludwick (Raswick?) lineup would compare to the Pujols-Rolen-Edmonds MV3 lineup of the mid-Aughts. If I wanted to break down the on-base averages and power potential, what do I do?

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  21. hailmatty says:

    The article uses 4.4 mil/WAR to argue that it wasn’t that much of an overpay but there was another article lambasting the Mets for overpaying on Bay using 3.5 mil/WAR. So which is it?

    You boys need to get your **** together.

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    • FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Different authors on this site are going to have different opinions of players, the market, etc. That’s just the way it is.

      Don’t worry, though, even at $4.4 million a win, the Mets still overpayed Bay by $10-$20M.

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      • hailmatty says:

        I’m not saying that the Mets didn’t overpay. Just that the writers here are apparently free to make arguments based on whatever interpretation of the market suits their bias. Shoddy work all around.

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        • FanGraphs Supporting Member

          You’re free to think whatever you want. Speaking for myself, I think we’re all just trying to figure it out the best we can based on the evidence we have — I asked around to people “in the know” at the beginning of the offseason, and their estimation was $4.4. Some people are now looking at the average of signings so far and going with other figures like $3.5. Some of us are going to be wrong, but we aren’t simply “suiting out bias.” We’re going with our best interpretation of the evidence.

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  22. I don’t see how Matt Holliday’s worth that much money, not with about average defense. His road hitting line is only .284/.353/.454/.808. Admittedly, his numbers have been affected by playing a lot of road games in LA and SD, two major pitchers parks, but St. Louis’s park plays more like a pitcher’s park yet he hit like he was in Arlington while there.

    Can he continue doing that? I have to think the adrenaline rush helped him out there. For example, Manny joined the Dodgers and hit .413/.515/.825/1.340 in LA in 2008, a notorious pitcher’s park. In 2009, Manny still hit well there but fell to .259/.373/.525/.898, which is much closer to his career road line of .314/.408/.585/.994 and below it.

    Holliday as noted above is a career .284/.353/.454/.808 hitter on the road but hit .377/.442/.677/1.119 in St. Louis in 2009. Bill James Handbook rates the Cards stadium as 80 out of 100 in terms of HR and is even tougher on RH with a 78. It is clearer a pitcher’s park that Holliday beat in 2009 in limited ABs, but I think he’s going to fall back to his career mean with time in the Cards uniform. Even if he bump up his road to account for SF, LA, and SD, he is still around mid-800 OPS: good, but not $17M for 7 seasons good.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Will Clark had a similar run when he came to StL to finish out the season when Big Mac was injured.

      Certainly Holliday isn;t going to hit .377, but he’ll likely hit better than .284. A “road average” includes playing in variuos ballparks, with different hitting backdrops, lighting, and other park effects. Hitting in Busch Stadium for 81 games isn’t going to be the same as hitting in 15 other ballparks for 81 games.

      That’s without mentioning all of the other “comforts of home” that lead to a higher level of “comfortability” (to play on the Bud Light commercials).

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