So here's something exciting to think about over the weekend: Matt Holliday playing first base. I was enamored by this idea in the middle of last season when the Cardinals needed Holliday's bat but didn't necessarily need his hobbled body in left field. That is, until I listened to a Best Podcast in Baseball (Goold/Miklasz edition), and was informed that the very idea was preposterous because Holliday hadn't taken practice ground balls since before Alex Reyes was even born (or thereabouts).
Well, according to Jon Heyman, Holliday is currently getting reps at first base in Jupiter, Florida, in an effort to prolong his career, and, by extension, give the Cardinals a previously unforeseen opportunity to add another quality bat to the outfield.
Holliday works out at 1B, possibly opening up OF spot for cards: https://t.co/qalnQ1sij3— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 18, 2015
Heyman specifically mentions free agent Alex Gordon as likely to be on the Cardinals' radar if Holliday is able to successfully make the transition. In limited action last year, Holliday hit well and even set the National League record for reaching base in 45 straight games to start a season. However, he suffered two separate injuries to his quad and was limited to 73 games.
Personally, and I'm not sure if this is a polarizing opinion or not, I love the idea of Holliday at first base. It's no secret that his defense in left field has always left a bit to be desired. He hasn't finished with a positive UZR since 2011. Even before 2011, Holliday didn't get off to the best start in left field with most Cardinals fans, as a small minority are still transfixed by him misplaying a line drive in the bottom of the 9th in Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS which would have won the game for the Cardinals. Instead, the Dodgers came back to win later that inning and completed the sweep two nights later.
Reasonable fans, however, forgave Holliday long ago because since then he's been worth 23.6 fWAR for the Cardinals largely due to his bat. Even last year at age 35 he had an OPS above .800 and while he didn't hit many home runs - four to be exact, which was the first time since 2005 that he didn't hit at least 20 - his injury was a large part of that. If the Cardinals can keep Holliday's bat in the lineup and successfully convert him to first base I'd consider that a win-win.
Even better, moving Holliday to first base would re-open the door to a free agency pool that appeared to close after the Cardinals failed to sign Jason Heyward. Part of the problem as Nick Lampe noted today at Beyond the Box Score, and granted this is not the worst problem to have, is that the Cardinals don't lack depth as much as they lack a truly elite hitter. So while there are no obvious holes in the lineup, Matt Adams' bat and defense at first base (which, to be fair, is not bad) is probably the most expendable and a competent Holliday at first base is an upgrade. And then John Mozeliak would have a bit more flexibility to make a play for one of the bigger outfield bats still looking for a home, whether that be Gordon, or even Justin Upton or Yoenis Cespedes. Or if he decides to go the frugal route...
A "competent Matt Holliday" is the key phrase. Most are familiar with the scene in Moneyball in which Ron Washington assures Scott Hatteberg that playing first base is not easy. This story could be dead a week from now if the Cardinals realize that Holliday is not a realistic option to play a position where he lacks any major league experience. But the opportunity to keep Holliday's bat in the lineup, while also signing another quality bat for the outfield without having to displace promising youngsters Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty is certainly an experiment worth trying.