clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The last time the Cardinals spent big on a free agent outfielder

Before there was #SignJasonHeyward, there was... wait, were there hashtags in 2010? Regardless, the Cardinals did #SignMattHolliday.

Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

When you look back at the free agent deal that the Cardinals signed with Matt Holliday in 2010, you don't have to squint too hard to see a lot of parallels with the Jason Heyward situation.

The Cardinals acquired Holliday in a trade-deadline deal which sent Top Prospect Brett Wallace, Clayton Mortensen and Shane Peterson to the A's. Many right here on this blog sounded the alarm at such a high price in prospects being paid for what was only "a two-month rental". In fact, just look at what this idiot had to say:

In my defense, I also made a hilarious joke about how Billy Beane likes guys with big butts in the same thread. Pure comedy gold.

The Cardinals would go on to win the NL Central, with Holliday putting up a monstrous 168wRC+ in his first stint wearing the Birds on the Bat. Of course, the Cardinals wound up being swept by the Dodgers in the NLDS, a series probably best-remembered for the end of Game Two, when what would have been the final out of a Cardinals win missed Holliday's glove and hit him square in the schnuts.

With that, Matt Holliday was a free agent, and if the Cardinals wanted him, they were going to have to outpay every suitor in the major leagues. Most prognosticators at the time had Holliday at the top of the free agent class but Jason Bay just behind or even in a dead-heat. Those who preferred Holliday pointed largely to his superior defense (at least compared to Bay) and the fact that he was three years younger. Those who preferred Bay tended to trumpet his more consistent 30 HR power.

The Hot Stove Season dragged on, from November into December and even into January. By most reports, the Red Sox, Mets and the Cardinals were the three main suitors for the two outfielders. On January 5th, 2010, the Mets signed Bay to a 4-year, $66 million contract. Two days later, the Cardinals inked Holliday to a seven-year deal worth $120 million. It would be the largest free agent contract of the 2010 offseason.

Not everybody thought the contract was a good move for the Cardinals.

"Is there any way to justify that Matt Holliday should have landed a contract that is almost $60 million richer than that signed by the second best hitter on the free agent market? I don't think so"

-- Some Guy at Bleacher Report

Of course, Bay would go on to be a major bust with the Mets, while even just a couple years later, Holliday's contract was recognized as being worth well more than the Cardinals paid for it.


The surface parallels between the Holliday situation of 2009/2010 and the Jason Heyward saga of today are unmistakable. But what strikes me the most is this:

I've heard it suggested in more than one place that if Jason Heyward earns the biggest payday of this offseason, it will be a sign that defensive metrics and WAR have finally overtaken the good ol' baseball card stats in front offices, by which proven "run producers" like Chris Davis and Juston Upton would clearly be signing the richest deals.

And yet... if you look at how Holliday stacked up against Jason Bay - and no, it's not a perfect comp - but what gave Holliday the edge was his defense (again, relatively), his youth, and perhaps a small edge in some of the more advanced offensive statistics.

The Cardinals have signed the biggest contract of an offseason; they have done so with a player whose value came outside of just HRs and RBI. They did it in 2010 with Matt Holliday. They can do it again with Jason Heyward.