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Would two years be better for Holliday and the Cardinals?

Why might both Scott Boras and the St. Louis Cardinals consider a shorter-term contact for free agent Matt Holliday?

Matt Holliday and John Mozeliak, 07/24/09As most St. Louis Cardinals fans know, the club remains in a contract stalemate with free agent Matt Holliday and his agent Scott Boras. For weeks, rumors of a five-year offer in the $80 million vicinity have supposedly been on the table.

In terms of years and total value, the Cardinals’ proposal is less than the seven-year, $107.5 million bid made in spring 2008 by Holliday’s club two back, the Colorado Rockies, though the annual value of St. Louis’ rumored offer is slightly higher. Boras seems unwilling or at least unready to admit the market has not grown to meet his inflated expectations, keeping many more across baseball than just his client and the Cardinals in a holding pattern.

Even with Tuesday’s news of Jason Bay going to the Mets for a reported four years, $66 million and a vesting option for a fifth season, closing off one more potential avenue for Holliday, there is no assurance that Boras will alter his negotiating stance any time soon. Among his other free agents still looking for work are Johnny Damon, Xavier Nady, Felipe Lopez and Adrian Beltre.

That doesn’t mean The Cardinal Nation isn’t working on alternatives. Recent discussions here and elsewhere have suggested the idea of the Cardinals modifying their bid to a higher annual value in return for fewer years. For example, a two-year deal for $34 million up to as much as $38 million, or from $17 million to $19 million per year.

If I was Boras presented with that structure, I would push for at least the same annual value over a longer period, four or probably five years minimum. A major risk for the Cardinals is that if Boras is ever ready to entertain a shorter-term contract, it could re-interest other clubs in Holliday’s services.

Later on, if Boras wanted to try to align with the Cardinals while also positioning Holliday to take advantage of a better future market, he might consider teeing up an escape clause after two years. That would not necessarily be an immediate card to play and assumes he could first get an annual value to his liking.

Putting on Cards general manager John Mozeliak’s hat instead, I might counter by asking for a comparable club out after two seasons. In essence, that would just shorten the deal to two years.

After all, two years down the road, it is likely that one side or the other would perceive benefit in ending the contract early. If the player and the market continue to improve, Boras will be a winner, just as he was with J.D. Drew and the Dodgers. If Holliday doesn’t deliver, then the Cardinals might be inclined to cut their losses and exit the deal.

Two years may make sense for a number of external reasons as well. Following the 2011 season, the leadership of the St. Louis Cardinals could be very different than today.

Tony La Russa is just starting his first-ever one-year contract with the team and if he doesn’t retire after the 2010 campaign, his own comments suggest the odds of staying will drop substantially in each passing year. In other words, his end as manager is approaching.

2011 will be Chris Carpenter’s last guaranteed season under his current contract. A perennial injury risk, the ace of the staff will turn 37 years of age during the first month of the 2012 season, an option year for the team.

Last and far from least, the franchise, Albert Pujols, is not under contract after 2011. Trying to figure out how to satisfy Albert in terms of dollars while affording the optimal combination of complimentary players around him remains the single largest challenge for the franchise.

One can debate whether signing Holliday to any deal, long-term or short, helps or hurts the Pujols situation. In a two-year scenario, an immediate concern over Holliday making more than Albert in 2010 and 2011 would arise, a potential problem that could be avoided in a longer-term deal by backend-loading Holliday’s contract.

In a two-year Holliday plan, this would have to be addressed by making Pujols a specific offer now. Even if he is not ready to entertain it, the club would demonstrate their proper respect to Pujols as the team leader.

Given all the above, if the money and terms are right, the parties involved in the Holliday situation just might find a way to settle on two years as a workable compromise, but even if so, will it be with St. Louis?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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