With Angels out, market resets on Holliday
Without acquiring any players, the Cardinals had a very encouraging Thursday.
Scott Boras did not.
The Cardinals want to retain free agent outfielder Matt Holliday. Nothing new or surprising there. In order for that to happen, the American League's Big Three will probably need to show a collective lack of interest.
Assuming Arte Moreno doesn't have a change of heart between now and the end of the Holliday Season, there's already one out.
Several days ago, I wrote that the Red Sox, Yankees or Moreno's Angels — all big-market, big-payroll teams — were the best fits for Holliday among the potential suitors.
But Moreno made clear Thursday, less than 24 hours before the grand opening of the winter market, that he doesn't plan on spending a dollar (or a hundred million of them) to secure the services of Boras' prized client.
"We are not looking at Holliday at all," Moreno said after the baseball owners' meetings adjourned. "He is not going to be an Angel."
I trust those words were well-received in St. Louis.
And later Thursday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on its website that Giants general manager Brian Sabean said it's unlikely that he will sign Holliday or fellow slugging free agent Jason Bay.
More good news for Cardinals fans. I'm sure it made them forget all about Tim Lincecum winning the Cy Young over Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
Declarative statements, such as the one Moreno made, are rare at this time of year. Equivocation is the flavor of the season.
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But Moreno was comfortable taking a public stance that doesn't necessarily hurt Holliday's market value — but certainly affects the environment.
Some may wonder if Moreno, who spoke candidly with reporters for more than 15 minutes Thursday, had an ulterior motive. I don't think he did. It's more likely that he doesn't want the work of general manager Tony Reagins to hinge on a protracted negotiation that could last until late December or January.
The Angels went through that last offseason, when Boras client Mark Teixeira turned down their eight-year, $160 million offer to sign with the Yankees for $180 million.
Moreno did mention the possibility of adding a hitter (or pitcher) through trade. Detroit outfielder Curtis Granderson is one reported target. Perhaps the Angels will avoid the high-end free agent market altogether.
Would Moreno have made the same statements Thursday if Holliday were represented by someone else? Someone who doesn't carry the perception, fair or unfair, that he always seeks and gets top dollar?
I don't know. Moreno didn't elaborate on the reasons why he decided against pursuing Holliday.
And he didn't rule out the acquisition of a different power-hitting left fielder. In fact, Moreno had some very nice things to say about Bay.
In the event that his team's prominent free agents — John Lackey, Chone Figgins and Vladimir Guerrero — sign elsewhere, Moreno acknowledged that he would consider Bay.
"You have to look at Bay," Moreno said. "It's a great bat. He has great makeup."
Bay and Holliday are both viewed within the industry as good "makeup guys," to use the parlance. I'm not sure one has an edge over the other in that area.
Maybe Moreno remembers that Bay batted .320 against his guys in postseason play over the past two years. Holliday did less damage against the Angels — a .250 average — during a brief stay with the division rival A's. That said, no organization as successful as Moreno's would base a multimillion dollar decision on such small sample sizes.
While Holliday and Bay seem to be pretty similar players with a lot of appeal, it's clear that the Angels hold Bay in higher esteem. They are entitled to that view. But I can't imagine that Boras, season ticketholder in the most visible suite at Angel Stadium, is ecstatic about this. His job is more difficult now than it was 24 hours ago.
What if the mid-market Cardinals, whom Boras mentioned by name in his recent comments about the cash-in/cash-out practices of various teams, actually prove to be the highest bidder?
Many within the industry believe Holliday would be happier in St. Louis than anywhere else. But the goal of free agency isn't happiness alone; it's maximum happiness and maximum wealth. That goal will be a little harder to accomplish without the Angels (and apparently the Giants) helping to bid up the price.
Of course, all of this will be moot if the Red Sox and Yankees are involved until the end. That could easily happen if Bay signs with the Mariners or Angels, leaving Holliday as the lone big bat left on the free agent market.
As a general rule, it's difficult to rule out the Red Sox or Yankees on any big free agent until the final buzzer. They have too much money, and their ongoing brinksmanship (particularly after a season in which New York won the World Series) can be used to justify almost any expense.
But if Red Sox and Yankees officials ultimately adopt the same stance as Moreno, Holliday might end up in St. Louis after all — at a price that reflects the Cardinals' (theoretically) increasing leverage.
Boras, who is excellent at what he does, is not one to shy away from a challenge. That's good. He might have one now.