Left fielder Matt Holliday has had a peculiar time with the fans of St. Louis since he arrived midway through 2009. At first, Holliday was lauded as a superstar. Then he took a shot off of his nuts to help lose the playoffs, followed by a huge contract that left everyone uneasy. A slow start exacerbated the problem until Holliday turned it around to end up with solid numbers. Strangely, there remains a vocal minority who remain quite unhappy with the quiet and dependable outfielder.
But his latest PR manuever will likely win over even his most unrelenting critics and endear him to the fanbase forever.
While talking to ESPN radio, Holliday suggested that he’d be willing to defer additional money owed to him by the Cardinals in order to make payroll room for Albert Pujols’ deservedly gigantic contract. Upon hearing this, Cardinals fans everywhere clamored excitedly. Holliday’s generosity and desire to keep Pujols as part of a winner enthralled Cardinal Nation.
But does it make any sense?
The first thing everyone needs to remember is that owner Bill DeWitt has made hundreds of millions of dollars owning and selling baseball teams, a figure that is probably closer to a billion dollars than anyone really suspects. With the Cardinals, DeWitt has invested about $250 million between buying the team (minus the parking garage sale) and the team’s ownership in the stadium. The franchise alone is worth three times that much right now. The team has the fourth highest attendance and the fourth highest ticket prices (as of 2010) in MLB. In other words, the team is rolling in cash, despite their cries of poverty.
I bring this up because DeWitt has shrewdly painted the franchise as a small-market, struggling-to-make-ends-meet ball club in order to be a cheap ass while pocketing huge sums of cash. Time and again I’ve heard Cardinals fans say that Pujols cannot be signed because then “the team won’t have enough money to pay for other players.” This is NONSENSE. A $120 million dollar payroll will quite comfortably fit the amount of money collected by the team. If DeWitt wanted, he could sell one of his jewel-encrusted toenail clippers and pay Pujols the entire $300 million up front. Even though the team COULD pay Pujols, DeWitt doesn’t like parting with money, PERIOD.
While nice, Holliday’s gesture doesn’t really solve DeWitt’s primary problems: (1) Even deferred money is money still spent eventually, and (2) deferring Holliday’s money doesn’t make a ten year investment any less dangerous. DeWitt is a sharp businessman, and he knows that paying Pujols the very top dollar for aging, declining stats for ten years is a bad investment. THAT is the real problem, and it’s not one that deferring money can really overcome.
In order for this extension to happen, DeWitt needs to think baseball and not accounting, while Pujols needs to check his ego at the door. It’s just as unreasonable for Pujols to expect DeWitt to pay $30 million at year to a forty year old player as it is for DeWitt to expect a hometown discount after just receiving the best bargain in sports contract history. Furthermore, asking Holliday to defer his money to accommodate a billionaire and an egocentric star would be even more unacceptable under the circumstances.
Holliday’s offer is gracious, and noted. He’s likely won over the fans for good. But it’s ultimately an empty gesture in this clash of titans.