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Holliday Season

I have to admit that the first time I heard the rumor about Ryan Ludwick and Matt Holliday being the principals of a trade I thought to myself, "Maybe this is a pretty good idea." I’ve long been an opponent of trading for Holliday b/c I was under the impression that we would necessarily have to include Rasmus in any deal. The idea of acquiring Holliday w/o Rasmus was somewhat of a relief to me.

However, the more I thought about this, the less I liked it. I’ll admit to wondering exactly what we can expect from Ludwick the next 3 seasons. He is 30 and will be 31 right after the All-Star break next year. He has had 1 solid half-season or so in the big leagues and 1 excellent full-season but he’s not the most disciplined hitter. Could this be an opportunity to sell high on a guy who’s probably a solid player but not nearly the top-10 MVP candidate he was in ’08? To me, there’s the possibility that Ludwick is similar to Craig Paquette, Eli Marrero, or Kent Bottenfield in that they were all players who had 1 really good season w/ the Cards but weren’t nearly as good as that season made them appear to be. Mind you, I’m not saying that Ludwick’s the same player as those guys; I know he’s much better. I’m just wondering if he didn’t just have his career-season, as those guys did in a Cards’ uniform.

A lot has been made of Holliday’s road splits. Many of you have; Derrick Goold has; Bernie has. The home/road splits are real. Goold compares him to Raul Ibanez, Corey Hart, and Jose Guillen, among others away from Coors. Those guys are nice players, but they’re not All-Stars and they’re not MVP candidates and they’re not worth cost-controlled 30+ homer guys. He has played an inordinately large number of games in Petco Park and AT&T Park which skews his road splits some. His career non-Petco/AT&T road splits – 293/350/476 are somewhat higher than his overall road splits – 280/348/455. And he’s just murdered the ball in 46 PAs in Busch III. Take that for what you will (and yes, I’m aware it’s a ridiculously small sample size.)

Still, Ludwick has his share of doubters. Derek Carty, over at THT, expects some "regression" this year based on a fairly high BABIP, and a high HR/FB ratio last year. I should point out that Carty’s numbers have his HR/FB ratio at 22%; THT has them at 21.2% and fangraphs has them at 19.9%. Both THT and fangraphs have him behind Pujols and a few others in that respect. Maybe it’s not so high, after all. In any case, Carty expects him to have numbers closer to what Ankiel produced this year -- .260 BA and 25 HRs – than what he produced last year. FWIW, ZIPS has him next year at 274/347/522 w/ 26 HR. That’s down considerably from ’08.

Let’s compare what the two OFs did last season. To some degree, we’re not comparing apples to apples since Ludwick had a career season and Holliday missed 20 or so games w/ an injury but it’s what we have to work with.

RC/27 BRAA VORP WPA Total Value Dewan’s +/-
Ludwick 8.18 41.02 53.6 2.53 50.8 -8
Holliday 9.08 45.65 60.4 4.88 54.0 +11

Total value comes from Justin Inaz’s spreadsheet and includes offensive and defensive numbers, as well as a positional adjustment. Some of these numbers are rate stats; some are counting stats but it’s pretty clear here that Holliday was slightly better than Ludwick last year. Yes, he played half his games in a great hitter’s environment and Ludwick played half of his in a fairly tough hitter’s park but, setting that aside, we can probably agree that Holliday was slightly better than Ludwick. He also has a better "track record" than Ludwick, given that he’s done it for several years and Ludwick’s done it, basically, for 1. Holliday has won 2 Silver Sluggers, been selected to the All-Star team twice, finished 2nd in the MVP balloting in ’07, and has 5 homers in 45 postseason ABs. He’s a damned good player. So we should do this deal, right?

I don’t really think so. Mo tells us that one of the reasons to consider something like this is that it will make us younger. Holliday is, after all, 18 whole months younger than Ludwick. This would make our 25 man roster roughly 22 days younger on average. Does this make a material improvement in the youth of our roster? It’s not like we’re replacing Reggie Sanders w/ Colby Rasmus. It’s true that Holliday’s a little better but he’s also considerably more expensive than Ludwick. While Ludwick stands to earn $3M or so in his first year of arbitration, Holliday’s due $13.5 M. Furthermore, Ludwick’s under the team’s control for 3 more years to Holliday’s 1. Now, reports are that any trade for Holliday would have to include a contract extension that would keep him in a Cards’ uni for several additional years. I’m thinking something along the lines of Carlos Lee’s 6 years/$100M contract – nearly $17M per season. So, for the next 3 years, Holliday would earn approximately $10 M PER SEASON than Ludwick.

Now, some may argue – "Who cares? It’s DeWitt’s money! We need to get the best player in the lineup and win a championship!" IMHO, that’s a pretty short-sighted argument. If we keep Ludwick, we could probably add BOTH Arthur Rhodes and Jeremy Affeldt to our pen for less than what it would cost to pay Holliday. Holliday may be a slight improvement over Ludwick but would you rather have Holliday, Randy Flores, and Ron Villone or Ludwick, Rhodes, Affeldt and a little more coin to use on something else valuable? I’m going w/ door #2.

On top of that, I can’t imagine that this is a straight-up trade proposal. Reports have used the phrase "multi-player deal" and so, considering Holliday’s pedigree, I’d have to think that this is Ludwick + for Holliday. Looking at all that I’ve seen, I wouldn’t even give up Ludwick, much less Ludwick +.

It’s no secret that Tony is championing a trade for Holliday. He wants a "proven" bopper to hit behind Pujols. According to Joe Strauss:

Having already discussed Ludwick and Rick Ankiel with the Atlanta Braves for either 26-year-old shortstop Yunel Escobar or second baseman Kelly Johnson, the Cardinals believe acquiring Holliday would provide added protection for first baseman Albert Pujols that manager Tony La Russa has long advocated. Statistically, Ludwick offered that during an All-Star season. However, La Russa long has defined "protection" as perception as much as numbers.
I wonder what Tony would say about the protection that Rhodes and Affeldt would provide in the pen for our team compared to the protection that Flores and Villone provided last year. Hmm…

In any case, it’s stuff like this that feeds the complaints from many of us that Tony prefers "vets" to "young guys." It’s true that Ludwick’s older than Holliday, but he is much less "proven" than Holliday. It’s not so much as old vs. young, as it is proven vs. unproven. He seems to pushing this trade, despite the financial costs b/c Holliday has that "better track record" than Ludwick does. As I said, I do believe that Holliday’s better than Ludwick, but he’s not worth the additional cost that the trade would entail. Moreover, this trade doesn’t even fill one of our holes. We’ve got a hole in the rotation and an abyss at SS and we’re trading 1 corner OF for another? That doesn’t make sense unless we turn around and trade Ankiel also to fill one of our true holes. Do any of you see us entering spring training w/ Skip as our only returning starting OF? I don’t either.