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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

The Cardinal Nation Blog top stories of 2010 #2: Holliday’s signing

Though agent Scott Boras took Matt Holliday into free agency one year ago, the outfielder returned to the St. Louis Cardinals via the biggest contract team history.

In some ways, it feels like it happened so long ago, the signing of then-free agent outfielder Matt Holliday didn’t actually occur during 2010. In reality, it did. The largest contract in St. Louis Cardinals team history was closed last January 5.

In my assessment, not only was the magnitude of the contract, $120 million, enough for the story to rank this high, so is the duration of the commitment of the two parties to each other – seven years, with an eighth-year option that could take the deal to $136 million. The option year would make it the longest contract in team history to go with it already being the top dollar deal. A no-trade clause helps ensure it will be completed.

Some wonder if the Cardinals weren’t bidding against themselves last winter, but they appeared to benefit from the wait as well. Early word from the Scott Boras camp was that Holliday was initially expecting to equal Mark Teixeira’s eight-year, $180 million deal with the Yankees from the previous winter. When all was said and done, he received substantially less.

Keeping Holliday was not an option; it was a necessity

It appeared obvious the Cardinals were in a position they needed to keep Holliday for a multitude of reasons.

Part of keeping Albert Pujols happy and hopefully in St. Louis for at least as long as Holliday will now be is to maintain a competitive team around him and specifically protection behind him in the lineup. That is clearly Holliday’s place.

Once Jason Bay officially came to terms with the New York Mets last January 4, there were no other free agents on the market of anywhere near Holliday’s quality to whom the Cardinals could have turned had he been lost to another club.

Further, it is reasonable to suspect that St. Louis’ “sunken costs” in Holliday played a factor in their aggressiveness in ensuring they kept him. They had paid a very high price when acquiring Holliday from Oakland in July 2009, three top prospects. Even with a pair of compensation picks had Holliday signed elsewhere, the Cards would have netted down one prospect and lost a number of important man-years of player development.

Holliday delivered

Holliday lived up to his part of the agreement in 2010, earning a National League All-Star berth, a Silver Slugger and the annual Darryl Kile Award selected by his peers for being “a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man.”

The Cardinals cleanup hitter batted .312, fifth-best in the NL, tied for seventh with 103 RBI, tied for fourth in multi-hit games with 52, was third in hits with 86, fourth in total bases with 317, sixth in on-base percentage (.390) and extra base hits (.74) and seventh in slugging (.532).

In an impressive combination of power and hustle, Holliday led the Cardinals with 45 doubles, tying for second-most in the league, while also scratching out a club-best 12 infield hits.

Defensively, Holliday tied for ninth among all NL outfielders with eight assists and was first among left fielders. It was the first time a Cardinal led left fielders in outfield assists since Bernard Gilkey had 19 in 1993.

The Cardinals did not finish strongly, but don’t blame Holliday. In the final month, he put together the 2010 team-best 16-game hitting streak, the second longest in his career. During the period of September 9-24, Holliday batted .431 (25-for-58) with two home runs and 12 RBI. His .364 average during September/October was second-highest in the NL.

Despite early-season concerns by some about Holliday’s batting average with runners in scoring position, he proved his “clutchiness” with 17 game-winning RBI. That total was second on the Cardinals and tied for third in the NL.

Holliday appears poised to do it for at least the next six years as well. Will he do it alone or with Pujols batting in front of him?

Link to The Cardinal Nation Blog’s top 20 stories of the year countdown

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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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