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Cards can send a message by keeping Holliday

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Dayn Perry

Dayn Perry is a frequent contributor to FOXSports.com. His second book, "Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball's Mr. October," is available from HarperCollins Publishers. Read more of his work at the NotGraphs blog.

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By acclamation, outfielder Matt Holliday is the prize of this free-agent class, both in terms of on-field value and the contract he'll command.
That's with good reason. Holliday, while not an elite hitter on the level of Albert Pujols, Joe Mauer, Hanley Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez, is still a highly productive, complete ballplayer. Holliday boasts the 10th-best career OPS of any active player. And while there's certainly some "Coorsifornication" in those numbers, it's worth noting that Holliday's career OPS, even after you adjust for league conditions and home park, is still a hefty 33 percent better than the league average. As well, his performance in St. Louis last season (a batting line of .353 AVG/.419 OBP/.604 SLG after the July 23 trade) eased fears that Holliday's Oakland numbers reflected his true abilities. Holliday also runs the bases well for a big man, and he's a plus defender in left. It's little wonder, then, the Scott Boras client will likely fetch a contract worth comfortably more than $100 million. Such a deal would stretch into Holliday's decline phase, but he'll continue to produce at a high level in the near term. (In fact, the great Bill James projects Holliday to hit .316/.391/.531 with 27 homers and 43 doubles in 2010.) Accordingly, many teams are interested. So to get in the "Holliday spirit," let's take a look at what signing the hard-hitting outfielder would mean to each of those probable suitors. If the rumors are any guide, you can — at this juncture — whittle that list of suitors down to four ...

Cardinals

Holliday, as noted above, thrived after his trade to St. Louis, and the Cardinals, despite some payroll limitations, figure to be serious bidders. They could use him. At first, it seemed that signing Holliday might make it more difficult for the Cards to see to the more essential business of signing Albert Pujols to a contract extension. In recent days, though, the matter has become a bit more complicated. If the Cardinals re-upped with Holliday, then there would be less room in the budget for a mammoth Pujols contract. On the other hand, if the Cardinals don't re-sign Holliday, then Pujols might question ownership's devotion to winning. Also keep in mind the Cardinals gave up top prospect Brett Wallace — among others — to get Holliday. That fact only adds to the pressure to re-sign him. The Cardinals could give the left-field job to Allen Craig or sign an underrated vet like Mike Cameron, but those moves — while defensible — might strike Pujols as half-measures. And souring "El Hombre" on the future of the organization is not something they can afford to do. So in terms of distinguishing themselves in a winnable division and satisfying Pujols, keeping Holliday in the fold is vital. Doing so makes them the heavy favorite in the NL Central and constitutes Step 1 toward making Pujols a Cardinal for life. For these reasons, St. Louis needs Holliday more than any other team.

Mets

As GM Omar Minaya prepares to perform triage on his roster, his thoughts are bound to turn to Holliday. Indeed, he'd the kind of signature addition for which beleaguered Mets fans are clamoring. But is Holliday the kind of hitter who can thrive in the Mets' new home park? Well, for all the hand-wringing over CitiField's run-suppressing ways, it's easy to forget the park tamped down scoring by just 2 percent last season. Besides, Holliday, in addition to hitting home runs, hits for average and shows excellent power to the gaps. In other words, he'd adapt. The drawback? Plowing so much money into one player might make it difficult for the post-Madoff Mets to solve their many other problems. To wit, Minaya must also dig up a first baseman, a catcher, a starter or two and some help in the bullpen. Holliday would make them a much better team, but, considering the state of the roster, would the Mets be better served by targeting cheaper, high-risk, high-reward talents (e.g., Rich Harden, Ben Sheets, Nick Johnson and their ilk)? Probably so. Holliday helps, but he doesn't push the Mets past the Phillies.

Yankees

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The team of boundless resources just happens to need a left fielder. If, that is, they opt not to re-sign Johnny Damon. Most organizations would be wary of doling out so many long-term deals and setting up for a roster one day filled with 35-and-over types. But thanks to the Yankees' structural advantages, they needn't worry about that. They can, after all, buy their way out of such problems. One concern might be Holliday's seeming inability to hit American League pitching. To be sure, his numbers in Oakland weren't up to his usual standards. In reality, though, Holliday had a bad April but was otherwise highly productive. It was a slow start and not an inability to thrive in the AL that dragged down Holliday's numbers. He makes a lot of sense for the Yankees. Of course, they could save a few bucks and years by re-signing Damon.

Red Sox

Jason Bay has already turned down Boston's opening offer, and that has the Sox kicking Holliday's tires. What they'll find is Holliday is a better player than Bay. Bay and Holliday are comparable hitters, but Holliday is far better defensively. Since Bay's 2007 knee injury, his range in the field has been greatly compromised, and the numbers reflect this fact. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, Holliday has been roughly 70 runs better in the field than Bay since the latter's knee injury. That's a whale of a difference. Bay makes the routine plays, but far too many balls elude him. And with David Ortiz still in Boston, the Sox can't stow Bay away at DH. With Holliday, there are no such concerns. The Sox can afford Holliday, and he's a healthy upgrade over the incumbent. So who needs Holliday the most? The Cardinals, without question. Then it's the Red Sox, who have ground to make up in baseball's toughest division. Then it's the Yankees, who could use him but have other options. Then it's the Mets, who simply have too many holes to fill.
Tagged: Red Sox, Brewers, Twins, Yankees, Mets, Cardinals, Marlins, Ben Sheets, David Ortiz, Johnny Damon, Mike Cameron, Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Nick Johnson, Joe Mauer, Rich Harden, Matt Holliday, Hanley Ramirez

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