St. Louis Cardinals: The End of Matt Holliday
The St. Louis Cardinals have enjoyed Matt Holliday since 2009 but how would the team survive without him? Just last season his absence was felt and already this spring tightness is reducing his appearance, so it is reasonable to begin to make contingency plans.
The March 6th spring training game against the Marlins became an immediate twitter-exploder (I know, not a word) when the news surfaced that Matt Holliday would appear for the St. Louis Cardinals batting in his regular three-spot but appearing at his never-before-seen-or-played position of first base.
Fans went wild. A Matt Holliday at first base would spell options that Mike Matheny could employ and would open the door for younger guns.
Fast-forward an hour or so after the roster was released and Cardinal Nation salivated over Holliday when dreams were crushed (hyperbole?) when Holliday was scratched from the lineup due to lower back tightness. Lower back tightness– Holliday’s kryptonite. Cardinals’ fans will recall this diagnosis given many times last season when Holliday would need to sit out a game or few.
Will a move to first base alleviate these lower back issues? Anyone who loves baseball will take immediate pause at this upon thinking through the moves required to play any position on the diamond but certainly upon considering the bending and scooping required at first base.
Is a move to first then a likely scenario for Holliday? Does this move provide the best case or worst case for the Cardinals? That’s for another post…
Let us imagine then, thanks to this initial red flag flown yesterday, that the 2016 Cardinals lose Holliday in similar fashion to 2016 or for good. [Insert Twilight Zone Theme Music] You are about to enter another dimension. A dimension not only of sight and sound, but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. Next stop, the Twilight Zone (IMDB)!
Headline: Matt Holliday Forced Into Retirement Due to Lower Back Tightness
In this, our fictional-but-potentially-likely scenario, Matt Holliday elects retirement prior to the start of the 2016 campaign. We should assume that he tried valiantly to play through pain during spring but simply couldn’t hold it together enough to contribute without harm to himself or the team.
We can likewise assume that Matheny and Mozeliak (and probably DeWitt too) had closed-door meetings with Holliday in attempts to find ways to keep him but ultimately helping him decide to retire. We can also insert that the brain trust listed above have made plans throughout spring to address a team without Holliday. We will play with these possibilities here.
Admitting the very small sample sizes seen thus far in spring, we have witnessed internal options that could supplant Matt Holliday in left field and via production in the lineup. A few added components to these solutions include that these options are younger, cheaper, and provide potentially longer lifespan than the aging Holliday.
Cardinals’ nation is falling faster and faster in love with young gun, Anthony Garcia. A top prospect in the organization, Garcia is likely starting 2016 in Memphis, but could jump in the big pond in the absence of Holliday. His defense is strong enough and his offense is equally strong. He may not post Holliday-like numbers from the start but with time may even surpass him.
I’ve written much about Carlos Peguero and how excited I am that he will start in Memphis and has the chance to build upon a strong minor league career in a new place. Adding to this, he has shown strong outings this spring already. Peguero has a shorter timeline to surpass Holliday-like numbers and comes with greater foot speed. He might be the immediate heir apparent.
Another top prospect in the organization, and another with foot speed, Charlie Tilson could give the two players listed above a run for the money to replace Holliday. While Tilson doesn’t present the pop- yet- of Holliday, his defense is strong and time could improve his bat swings.
The most obvious and immediate solution already on the roster to replace Holliday is Tommy Pham. Should fans expect a breakout season in 2016 from a player who when healthy has displayed exciting stuff? Will a new diet and new contacts– already seeming to present success here during spring- continue their successful impact into the season?
Pham, having already amassed MLB experience, would likely get the internal nod over others if his health allowed.
We should admit that the names above are good for replacing Holliday AND good for value through trades. A few outfield names have been circulated this offseason in relation to the Cardinals and I think the brain trust would turn to these should Holliday depart.
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Cargo is an attractive name and one that would immediately replace the qualities lost through a Holliday absence. In fact, fans could assume that Cargo would surpass Holliday quite quickly. But what will he cost? It is safe to assume that the Cardinals would need to offer one or more of the names above and likely a pitcher similar to a Deck McGuire. It is rumored that the organization played around with this trade earlier but stayed away because the asking price was too high.
While not as flashy a signing as Cargo, Marlon Byrd would be an inexpensive solution for a year or two and could produce at levels acceptable as a replacement. Byrd is a free agent and wouldn’t cost any players already on the roster. This might be more desirable since the players listed as in-house options above could surpass Holliday-like numbers with one more year of service. In other words, Byrd would bridge the gap in this time.
Another likely trade candidate with the Colorado Rockies, Blackmon has a lower ceiling but would cost less than Cargo. Blackmon needs time to improve his statistics so I’m not so sold that he is a better replacement than the internal options with one major caveat: Blackmon has MLB service time and experience that the in-house players lack.
Looking at all these options, we all need to hope that Holliday stays healthy and remains with the Cardinals. Should he fall, I think that the internal options- at this point at least- are the better choices in this matter. I feel that Pham, Peguero, A. Garcia, and/or Tilson will be the best options for replacements. Does this leave us disappointed? I don’t feel that any of these players will disappoint.
Next: St. Louis Cardinals best/worst case 2016: Matt Carpenter
Now that we have re-entered the real world, let us hope that Holliday’s scratch from the lineup yesterday was precautionary and that his lower back will decide it is okay to relax and let him appear in the lineup regularly this season. This new development adds another interesting component to spring training. Luckily (or rather unluckily), the Cardinals are not strangers to dealing with injury in spring training.