When considering the rumors of the
St. Louis Cardinals trading for Colorado Rockies star Matt Holliday, The
Cardinal Nation seems divided.
There are issues surrounding the
loss of the players reportedly to be given up, concerns over whether Holliday is
a freak of the mile-high altitude of Denver, with non-superstar numbers
delivered elsewhere as well as questions over how much of the club’s existing
financial flexibility would be exhausted by acquiring another outfielder while
open needs in the middle infield, left-handed relief, closer and starting
pitching are not being addressed.
Yet, to me, this discussion
quickly evolves to a discussion of contracts – and not just those of the players
involved in this proposed trade.
If the Cards send three players to
outfielders Ryan Ludwick and Skip Schumaker along with starter Mitchell Boggs,
for example, there is considerable inherent risk. None of the Cardinals three
are anywhere near free agency, with Ludwick the closest at three years out. For
the foreseeable future, Holliday will make considerably more than the three
On the other hand, Holliday has
just one season remaining prior to free agency, one in which the Scott Boras
client is set to make $13.5 million.
Would the Cardinals dare risk
making a trade for Holliday without an extension agreement locked down? Sure,
they did it with Mark McGwire, but that was a different player in a different
Without that extension in hand,
they would reportedly give up three MLB players for a single year of Holliday
and the chance for a couple of draft picks - not a good deal, in my humble
What would it take to keep
Holliday and Boras happy long-term?
A very, very important data point
is that the 28-year-old Holliday turned down an extension offer from the Rockies
last spring that totaled four years, $82 million, or an average annual value
(AAV) of $20.5 million.
That means any deal the Cardinals
make would surely be expected by Boras to top the
Rockies’ spurned offer.
Let’s take a very conservative
view that four years, $84 million would be a starting point in negotiations.
Given the Cardinals’ desire to back-end load contracts, let’s assume the offer
would break down as follows: $19 million in 2010, $20M in 2011, $22M in 2012 and
$23M in 2013.
Therein lies the rub.
Superstar Albert Pujols, 28 years
of age like Holliday, is set to make $16 million in 2010 and $16 million again
in 2011. The latter is a club option which will surely be picked up.
How could the Cardinals pay the
newcomer Holliday more than the franchise icon Pujols for two
They can’t and
The Cardinals have been very firm
in managing to a team salary structure that pays their stars the most money.
This was emphasized when the organization extended Chris Carpenter’s deal two
years sooner than required. One factor in their decision was their attempt to
sign then-free agent Jason Schmidt at a higher salary than their incumbent ace.
The ink on that extension was
barely dry when Carp suffered his Opening Day 2007 elbow injury and subsequent
Tommy John surgery, followed by unresolved nerve ailments in his shoulder and
elbow. In the two seasons since the extension, Carpenter has appeared in just
five games and his 2009 health and role remains the largest question mark on a
Cardinals team full of them.
The status of Pujols’ elbow, the
off-and-on again focus of drama queens all over baseball, still has to be
considered a risk factor. If his recent surgery for decompression and transposition of the ulnar nerve
doesn’t moderate the pain and reconstruction of the
medial collateral ligament is eventually required, an entire season will
be lost at whatever point the procedure is done.
What would it take to ensure
Albert is treated fairly?
First of all, Pujols’ current deal
would need to be sweetened to pay him more than Holliday in 2010 and 2011.
Estimated cost: at least an incremental $9 million - $4M in 2010 and $5M in
Now, let’s move on to the
In terms of years, six plus an
option year would be a lot, but in fact, is one year less than Pujols’ current
contract. I could see the Cards having to add a year, though if I was on the
other side of the table, I would play up the two years of increased value on the
In terms of the market, here are
some other data points from around the game. Yankees Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter will make $32M and $20M respectively in 2009 and Manny Ramirez has
reportedly been offered $25M per year for two or three years to remain in Dodger
While Cardinals fans are fond of
hoping for hometown discounts with players, the fact is that Pujols has been a
bargain for the club in recent years. While I think he would take slightly less
to play in St. Louis, I don’t think the Cardinals can succeed with an
insulting, low-ball offer, nor do I expect them to make one.
From my point of view, I don’t see
how the Cardinals could land Pujols without paying at least $25M in average
annual value. Over six years, from 2012 through 2017, that would be at least
$150 million, plus the extra $9 million to cover the “Holliday raises” for 2010
In this scenario, the hypothetical
amounts could be $20M and $21M in 2010 and 2011, followed by $23M, $24M, $25M,
$26M, $27M and $28M with a $5 million buyout or $30M in 2018, when Pujols would
be 38 years old. The total value of the extension would be $167 million. If the
2018 option was picked up, for the nine years from 2010 through 2018, Pujols
would make $224 million, an AAV just a hair short of $25 million per
So, in assessing the cost of
bringing in Matt Holliday, one should consider adding in an additional $9 million or more
in pay to Pujols for the 2010-2011 seasons as well as cutting up to two
years off the time they would have to further assess the future health of El
Is it worth
With a total payroll planned to be
in the $110 million range, can the Cardinals afford to have between $45 million
and $50 million locked up in two superstar players? Or, $60-plus million in
three, including Carpenter, who is under contract for three or four (with option) more seasons?
It is not easy to forget how many
millions the club had tied up in players that could not take the field in 2008,
including Carpenter, Mark Mulder and Juan Encarnacion. If the Cardinals are
planning to considerably grow their player payroll in upcoming seasons, it would
be a positive, but there has been no indication that is on the horizon.
Still the nagging issue remains
whether the Cardinals could work out a Holliday extension now, anyway.
Boras’ history is to take his players
into the market as free agents. Others point out the recent Kyle Lohse extension
as evidence of a kinder, gentler Boras evolving without acknowledging the
uniqueness of Lohse’s situation. He was left high and dry when Boras passed up an offer to remain in Philadelphia for three
years and didn’t receive another call until mid-March. Lohse made it clear that
wasn’t going to happen again.
Boras' recent actions (such as voiding
first-round pick Pedro Alvarez’ contract to squeeze more money and a MLB
contract out of the Pittsburgh Pirates), reinforced the perception of his desire to score top dog
salaries for his clients. Even if he would do a deal now, would Boras
acquiesce to having his man Holliday perched at number two on the Cardinals
salary totem pole?
One would hope so or that could be
a show-stopper - unless you believe the Cardinals would risk making the trade
without an extension agreement locked down. As noted above, without that, they
would roll the dice by giving up three MLB players for a single year of Holliday
and the chance at a couple of draft picks.
Sure, by not doing an extension on
Holliday now, the Cardinals might save 12 months making a long-term move on Pujols,
but the risks in losing Holliday after just one year might easily outstrip
For me, the bottom line is to
seriously question whether Holliday is a financial fit for the Cardinals, though
some of the other concerns with the trade mentioned earlier also have
It Holliday does come, I would
wait on a Pujols extension until Holliday’s is done, assuring Albert right up
front that he will get more money. Once Holliday’s extension is in place, I
would push to get Pujols’ done as soon as possible – no later than next off-season.
On the other hand, if Holliday
doesn't come to St.
Louis, then I’d wait at least another year until getting
serious about Pujols’ extension.
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Brian Walton can be reached via
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