by Michael Riehn
My son had a birthday yesterday and reminded me how much I missed Cardinal baseball… with a TV commercial. He’s been running around the house letting everyone know that “6… is a serious number“. I’ve taken a brief hiatus from blogging since then end of the season (aside from my hydraulic press blog), but it’s time to get serious. Could 6 be the key to the Cardinal’s hot stove league season?
The Heat is On
The Cardinals kicked off their free agency by signing Brad Penny to a one year contract. Penny replaces Joel Pineiro’s innings in the rotation and is an upgrade AND downgrade wrapped into one (round) package. Penny won’t replicate the season of the ground ball machine circa 2009, but he may be better than Peneiro in 2010.
Penny has one of the best fastballs in the league (his 93.4 MPH average is top five in the league) and will have Dave Duncan’s tutelage without the extra 3-4 years on the contract. Bill James predicts 12-11, 4.17 ERA, 205 IP for Pineiro and 10-11, 4.01 ERA, 182 IP for Penny.
A good sign.
A Buyer’s Market
At the beginning of free agency, it looked like the Cardinals didn’t have a chance at re-signing Matt Holliday. The numbers were scary (and true), like 8 (the number of year’s Scott Boras was wanting), 39 (the age of Matt Holliday the year after an 8 year contract) and 22 (the average annual value that Scott Boras was originally looking for).
Scott Boras was doing what he always does, but for once, the numbers being floated around scared EVERYBODY, even the large market teams. The Cardinals offered a 5 year 80 million dollar contract (16 million) and the Red Sox followed it up with a 5 year 82.5 million (16.5 million). Boras turned them both down and watched the market collapse. The Red Sox went a different way and used their money to sign free agent pitcher John Lackey.
The Yankees are the elephant in the room that make Scott Boras who he is. They are always driving up the market, but have not helped Boras this year. He didn’t count on the trade for Curtis Granderson, and the Yanks have showed a modicum of restraint, holding their budget to around 200 million (though they may still sign Johnny Damon).
This isn’t just a bluff. The Yankees cost for free agents aren’t like other clubs due to a steep luxury tax. They spend a lot of money, but they lose a lot every year too. If they sign Holliday to 18 million, they are taxed 40%, meaning they are really signing him for 25 million (plus their first round draft pick). This looks like it is even too rich for their (cold, heartless, greedy) blood.
The smaller market teams are pulling back (aside from Seattle, who signed Chone Figgins), and have become conservative due to the econony. Mark DeRosa signed a 2 year deal with the Giants (12 million) and Atlanta had to trade Javier Vazquez to cut costs.
The Cardinals have been keeping costs down in years past once they identified Holliday as their target for 2010. They’ve got enough dry powder to compete with the big boys, especially with the poor economy, but they don’t want to fall into a classic Boras trap. The only serious player in the hunt for Holliday’s services was the Mets… until they signed Jason Bay to his 4 year 66 million dollar deal (16.5 million per) with a vesting 5th year option for $14 million.
So what do the Cardinals do? They can’t wait forever on Holliday as they still need a right handed reliever and a backup centerfielder (along with their left field bat). Contrary to popular belief, their isn’t much of a plan B on the market.
The best player available (not counting Holliday) is Adrian Beltre, and most of his value is through his superb defense at third (think Scott Rolen). Jermaine Dye and Xavier Nady may have intriguing bats, but they give it all back through poor defense in this stage of their career.
The real plan B is Felipe Lopez, who provides a great on base percentage and terrible glove at multiple positions. He won’t provide any protection for Pujols, or help for our groundball staff, but he would get on base in front of the machine and be a big addition to the offense. Johnny Damon is the only other impact bat on the market, but he is over priced and a Scott Boras client (making it tough to use him as leverage).
The Cardinals need Holliday and Holliday needs the Cardinals, but if the team increases the value of their offer, they are bidding against themselves. Unfortunately, Scott Boras will want to save face and he’s not going to take less annual value than Bay.
Bay has crystallized the market for Holliday. To get the deal done, Boras will want an offer of 5 years with a vesting option for a 6th year at almost 16.67 million per year. The 6th year is the key. That will get his contract above Bay’s and make him a 100 million dollar player (with the option). Think 5 years 16.5 million per year with an option year for $17.5 million. At the very least, he won’t make less than $16.5 million over 6 years.
The 100 million dollar deal wouldn’t be a bad contract, especially in the beginning (Holliday is worth around 24 million next year with most projection systems), but I don’t see how the Cardinals can increase the offer on his contract without someone else pushing the deal.
The Cardinals have the highest contract on the table at 5 years 80 million (16 million per year) and they would be foolish to increase it without another bidder. That won’t get it done, because it is basically what Bay signed for. This means that we won’t see a resolution soon.
Without a second team, Holliday will remain unsigned until Spring Training. The only other option for Boras is to change his tactics and have Holliday sign a 1 year deal to hit the market again next year. If he did this, you would see the Yankees and Red Sox back into the picture, and the deal would be for over 20 million. This option will happen before Holliday accepts the 5/80 contract and is the only way I see the Cardinals not ending up with the slugger.
Will the Cardinals increase their offer to get a deal done or will Boras change tactics? It will be interesting to see who blinks first.
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