It’s been said – here and many other places – that there is no real way to provide "protection" for Pujols. It doesn’t matter who hits 4th, the other team would much rather, ceteris paribus, pitch to that player than to Pujols. Whether it’s Matt Holliday or Matt Damon doesn’t make a lot of difference in terms of Pujols seeing good pitches to hit. The best way to "protect" Pujols, is to get runners on base when he comes to the plate. This forces teams to either pitch to Pujols w/ runners on base – when he’s most dangerous – or put an additional runner on base for the cleanup hitter. And again, as long as that hitter is about league average or better , the team that intentionally walks Pujols to get to that hitter is going to be hurt more than helped over the long run.
So far this season, the Cards best players have been Pujols, Rasmus, Molina, and Ryan. These 4 should be set in the lineup at 1B, CF, C, and SS , respectively for the remainder of the season. RF, LF, 3B, and 2B have been problems either b/c of offense (RF, 3B), defense (2B), or both (LF). The other thing that’s notable about our offensive struggles is that we have been downright horrid against lefthanders (.228/.308/.359). Our biggest culprits against southpaws have been Skip (.235/.291/.255), li’l Dunc (.242/.299/.371), Rasmus (.128/.226/.191), and Ankiel (.226/.268/.302). None of that should surprise anyone. Our 4 main left handed hitters have been horrendous against lefties. There is no doubt that the hitter we acquire should be a right handed hitter and clearly we need someone who can play the OF and allow at least 2 of those lefties to sit against the southpaws.
However, by focusing on outfield only players such as Matt Holliday, the team is ignoring its problems at 3B and 2B. Yes, we might get Troy Glaus back and he may play some and may be somewhat effective. In the meantime, we run out Joe Thurston (.302 wOBA) or Khalil Greene (.288). Both have been replacement level or below this season. Yes, I realize that we all love Skip’s spunk. He is first on the team’s grit-ometer and #1 in our hearts but he’s killing the team defensively and when a lefty is on the mound. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone (other than Tyler Greene or Brian Barden) who could man the keystone when a lefty is on the mound? Does Matt Holliday offer that? Can Holliday play 3B?
When looking at trade targets, then, we need to be looking for a right handed hitter and preferably one who can play multiple positions. They also have to be playing for a team who is out of it, or near out of it, and whose team will soon be sellers. The candidates:
- Matt Holliday – A’s: Holliday’s a great hitter and, yes, I know about his infamous home/road splits. He’s still been a 2 win player in the first half while playing, by most people’s estimation, poorly in a pitcher’s park in the tougher league. Still, he costs more as well – the p-d says Ludwick, a right handed reliever, and a prospect. The problems are that he can’t play 2B or 3B and doesn’t even replace Ankiel or Duncan in the OF.
- Mark DeRosa – Indians: DeRosa will probably cost us someone like Perez or Boggs which is unlikely to cost the team any wins over the rest of the season. DeRosa plays 2B, 3B, and the OF, though historically DeRosa has not been a good infielder. DeRosa has a career wOBA of .336, though he’s been above that every season since 2005. DeRosa has destroyed lefties over his career (.305/.375/.488) and has averaged 3 WAR for the last 3 seasons. He would replace one of the replacement level 3B until Glaus gets back (should it happen), could play 2B or LF against lefties – thereby replacing one of the awful lefthanded hitters at those positions – and be worth 1.5 wins at a minimum for the rest of the season. Since he’s replacing replacement level players, that’s a gain of 1.5 wins. He’s also a free agent at the end of the season.
- Ty Wigginton – Orioles: No, he’s not a sexy name and yes, he’s signed for next season at $3.5 M. I seriously doubt that he would cost us more than Boggs or P.J. Walters, however. For his career, he’s been a lefty killer (.288/.361/.501) and, like DeRosa, he’s played 2B, 3B, and LF. Unlike DeRosa he’s only been below average at 3B but, more recently, he’s been better than 4-5 years ago. He’s probably at most a 2 win player for a full season, though he was worth 3.1 last year, so it’s probably a net gain of about 1 win or so over the last half of this year. He does, however, provide insurance at 3B next year in case Wallace or Freese aren’t ready to take the job full-time.
- Felipe Lopez – D-backs: LB made the case for Lopez a couple of weeks ago. His platoon splits aren’t as good as DeRosa’s or Wigginton’s (.274/.328/.393) but he’d be a damned sight better than the guys we’re running out there now. He can play 2B and 3B adequately and, as we know, has played some OF. He’s been worth 1.6 WAR for the D-backs so far this season and was worth 1.7 as a Cardinal over the last 2 months of last season so maybe it’s conceivable that he could be worth a win and a half this season as well. He’d cost next to nothing to acquire so we wouldn’t be out any wins this season.
- Scott Hairston – Padres: Hairston has really put it together this season. He has a .391 wOBA and has been worth 1.7 wins for the Padres while playing CF. He destroys lefties (.290/.343/.547 for his career) and came up as a 2B. This will never happen, however. He’s having perhaps a career year and is still under team control for 2 more seasons, thus making him pretty expensive. He hasn’t played 2B since 2004 and has never played 3B at the big league level.
- Freddy Sanchez – Pirates: Like several of the others, Sanchez mauls lefties (.352/.388/.501 for his career). Sanchez is just a good hitter. He’s had LD rates of 24.5%, 27.5%, 22.5%, 24.3%, and 22.7% over the last 5 seasons. He’s been above average at 2B and 3B and, though he’s never played the OF as a major leaguer, there’s little doubt in my mind that he could. He averaged being worth 3.9 wins from 2005-2007 and has been worth 2 wins this first half. He could certainly be worth 1.5 – 2 wins over the last half of the season. Would he cost much more than a right handed reliever? How about Perez and Jon Jay? Why not? The team has an $8M option on Sanchez for 2010 or he becomes a free agent. The main reason why this trade is unlikely is that Sanchez also plays in the NL Central but, if you ask me, that’s more likely to come back to bite us 3-4 years later than for the Pirates to care this year or next. Let’s face it – they’re not competing for a division title this year or next. The more I think of this, the more I like it.
Holliday was a 6 win player last season so it’s not unreasonable to believe that he might be worth 3 wins over the 2nd half of the season. Pretty good. However, Ludwick’s healthy now and was a 5.6 win player last season. Is it unreasonable to think that he’ll be worth 2 wins over the 2nd half? There’s virtually no difference defensively between Holliday and Ludwick, except for the fact that Holliday hasn’t played RF well…ever. I’d say that Holliday is worth no more than 1.5 wins more than Ludwick over the rest of the season and it’s probably closer to 1 win that the team gains – and that’s assuming that the reliever we trade (Motte, Perez, or McClellan) is replacement level over the last 3 months. I don’t care about the salary bump b/c we’re taking on half of it and Holliday’s a free agent at the end of the season. Do I want to resign him? Absolutely not. We’re going to need every $ we’ve got to extend Pujols. Ludwick will come at half the price of Holliday over the next 2 seasons. We can do better.
To those who would say – "We should only trade for Holliday if we can sign him to an extension!" Why would we, knowing that we’re going to have to come up w/ $25+M for Pujols soon, and knowing that we still owe Carp and Lohse for $10M+ for the next couple of seasons, give Holliday a contract in the neighborhood of 5 years, $75 M or more. 5 years probably isn’t enough for what he’s going to get. He’s probably going to get something like 6-7 years and $100-120M. When we have Ludwick, Duncan, Rasmus, Jay, Jones, Mather – why would we give Holliday that kind of money? Hell, we could sign DeRosa to a 2 year contract worth $12-15 M and let him play LF if we wanted, thereby saving some money for Pujols. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather have Pujols than Holliday. He makes much more sense as a rental than as purchase, if you ask me.