A Holliday gift, but worth the price?
Cards weigh options in possible trade for Rockies slugger
ST. LOUIS -- Multiple reports list the Cardinals as a favorite to land Rockies star Matt Holliday in a trade, but it may not be as simple as putting the right pieces together to entice Colorado to part with its franchise player.
According to reports in three different newspapers, St. Louis is a serious player for Holliday, who is widely expected to be dealt before Spring Training. Reports indicate that Ryan Ludwick, coming off a breakout season that may garner him down-ballot MVP votes, would be the centerpiece of any Cardinals package for Holliday.
As a matter of course, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak does not comment on trade discussions with other clubs. However, there is enough smoke around the rumors to suggest that at least a little spark exists at the center of all of it.
St. Louis has had interest in Holliday in the past, and the Cards and Rockies engaged in discussions in July regarding reliever Brian Fuentes. Thus, the two teams would not be starting at zero in any discussion of each other's systems.
Ludwick, who has enjoyed a breakout with St. Louis over the past year and a half, expressed a desire to remain with the Cardinals -- but also an understanding that it may not work that way.
"I have heard about the rumors," Ludwick wrote in an e-mail on Friday. "However, I have not heard any details. They don't concern me -- obviously, I can't control the situation. There is no place I would rather be than St. Louis, but I have been with five different organizations, and I know it's a business. St. Louis feels like home, I love my teammates and most importantly, I think we can win."
If the Cardinals are to make a significant move via trade this winter, it's clear that the outfield is their greatest area of strength from which to deal. Ludwick, Rick Ankiel and Skip Schumaker all posted breakthrough seasons in 2008. Top prospect Colby Rasmus is waiting for an opportunity, and players such as Joe Mather and Brian Barton emerged as intriguing part-time options in '08.
Still, that same surplus makes an outfield addition an odd move. By dealing Ludwick, who will be arbitration-eligible for the first time, for Holliday, the Cardinals would be taking on approximately $10 million in extra salary without addressing any of their needs. Holliday is due $13.5 million in the last season of his current contract, while Ludwick is arbitration-eligible for the first time this year.
The Cardinals have somewhere on the order of $25-30 million in payroll flexibility to build their 2009 roster, but that money must be used to address needs at second base, shortstop, left-handed relief, starting pitching depth and perhaps closer. Committing more than one-third of that sum to an area that is not a pressing need would be a curious move.
Bringing in Holliday, however, comes with its own set of concerns. The Cardinals would be giving up three years of Ludwick, who is not eligible for free agency until after the 2011 season. In return, they would only be guaranteed one year of Holliday, who can be a free agent after 2009. They'd likely look to secure a long-term deal, but Holliday is represented by Scott Boras, who in general is loath to let his players re-sign without testing the market.
Thus, one major risk would be that St. Louis would get only one year from Holliday, and then need to fill that same spot again after 2009. And if it were to sign Holliday, it would represent another major long-term commitment for a club that will soon need to re-up Pujols as well. Pujols' contract runs through 2010 with a club option for '11.
It's difficult to gauge what Holliday's market value might be, but one potentially comparable player is Carlos Lee, who signed a six-year, $100 million deal with the Astros before the 2007 season. Lee turned 31 in the first year his deal, while Holliday will turn 30 shortly before what would be the first season of a new pact. Holliday is also considered a better defender than Lee.
Moreover, it's highly unlikely that the Rockies would accept a simple one-for-one deal of Ludwick for Holliday, despite the three-years-vs.-one-year element. Holliday is the Rockies' franchise player, and even though Ludwick had a superb 2008 season, he hasn't established the credentials Holliday has. Colorado is seeking high-upside pitching talent, and might ask for a relief pitching prospect, of which St. Louis has several.
So it's possible that in the coming days, the two clubs will consummate a deal bringing the 2007 National League batting champion to St. Louis. But it's far from a done deal, and even in making such a splash, the Cards would be far from done with building their '09 roster.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.