There are plenty of reasons to be excited for the 2012 season. The Cardinals' Front Office led by John Mozeliak has assembled an interesting set of players despite the void left by Albert Pujols. Veterans Lance Berkman and Carlos Beltran will become key focal points in a revamped offense along with World Series MVP David Freese and the Cardinals will look to work Allen Craig's bat into the lineup upon his return from rehabbing knee surgery. The rotation is bolstered by a newly ligamented Adam Wainwright a deep veteran core of Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse and Jake Westbrook and the sole lefty Jaime Garcia.
I visited this topic early last year but it seems worthwhile to come back to it again. There is really one player who the Cardinals will depend on to fill the significant void left by the departure of #5. That would be #7, Matt Holliday. Despite appearing in approximately 75% of last year's games, Matt Holliday still managed to put up a 5.0 fWAR year. That was due in large part to what was, arguably, his best offensive season of his career factoring in league and park effects. Matt Holliday was simply terrific.
The Cardinals are surely thankful that he was terrific because they've signed him for another 5 years and $85M dollars. Through the first two seasons, Holliday has outperformed his contract by roughly $15M dollars. He's kept the Cardinals in the black on the contract with some exceptional offense, durability and average defense. His contract remains the largest one provided by the Cardinals to date and even after playing through two seasons of it, Matt Holliday is the largest financial commitment on the books for the team.
During the offseason in 2009, Matt Holliday was not the only outfielder that some considered to be a premier free agent. Jason Bay would sign a 4 year, $64M deal with the New York Mets who almost certainly regret that decision. In 2008, Bay had been traded from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the Boston Red Sox for four players: Craig Hansen, Brandon Moss, Andy LaRoche and Bryan Morris. In typical Pirate fashion*, none of those four players amounted to anything of real value. Bay would finish the 2008 season with Boston and proceed to have a monstrous 2009 where he hit .267/.384/.537. It was a season that was roughly equivalent to the work Matt Holliday was doing in Oakland and St. Louis. After that, things would diverge.
The Mets have spent $32M to get 2.2 WAR in the last two years. The Cardinals spent an extra $2M to get an additional 9.5 WAR from their corresponding Jason Bay player.
This is, in large part, as much a testimony of how good Matt Holliday is as it would be an example of just how terribly Jason Bay has performed for the Mets. Matt Holliday is likely to be the new anchor of the Cardinals lineup and the only player to appear regularly in the number three spot on a lineup card since Albert Pujols made his name there in 2001.
Matt Holliday's role on the Cardinals will be different than what it was previously. One would hope that his recent invite to a few Cardinals' minor league players to spend some time practicing with he and David Freese in St. Louis is a tacit acknowledgement that Holliday is now the big man on campus. The offense will have to be more balanced but it will be Holliday-centric much as it was Pujols-centric. At 32, Matt Holliday is entering what modern analysis would lead us to believe is his decline phase. Eventually, the Cardinals will look elsewhere to find the focal point of their offense. For the next 2-3 years, they are depending on Matt Holliday to be that focus. If 2011 was any indication, a healthy Holliday is prepared to shoulder the load.
*Typical pirate fashion actually involves a scimitar, bandana, large linen pants hemmed tight at the ankle, a deep V blouse and 1-2 missing teeth.