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About That Holliday Option....

Matt Holliday, having served as the centerpiece of the Cardinal offense for the past half-decade, is nearing the end of his contract. There's one little detail about that, however.

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Okay, first things first: I didn't get to watch the game last night, as I was otherwise engaged, which I now find quite regrettable, considering what a remarkable game it likely was to experience firsthand. I also forgot to set the DVR to record, sadly, so now I'm just watching the highlights on the Cards' website. Which isn't the end of the world, of course; I've probably watched Brandon Moss hit that home run a dozen times, and it has yet to get old. The magic of the interwebs, and all that.

However, watching another of the highlights, specifically the clip in which the broadcast team is discussing Randy Flores, I can't help but notice that something looks off about Marco Gonzales's delivery. I'm going to see if I can check out the condensed game a little later and see what's going on, but having seen just a few pitches, it looks like he was almost dropping down to a low three-quarters slot and kind of crossfiring the ball. Maybe I'm jumping at shadows, and it was just one or two deliveries where he lost his mechanics, but something looks wrong. It's something I'm definitely a little concerned with. Hopefully it's nothing.

Moving on to the actual thing I was planning on writing about this morning, however...

You know, I've been thinking quite a lot lately about contracts. Mostly in the context of what Jason Heyward is likely going to be getting this offseason, and whether or not it will be the Cardinals giving whatever that is to him. (For the record, I hope it is. In the words of John Malkovich, pay that man his money.) And one consideration in that calculus, of course, is the presence of one Stephen Edward Piscotty, whose middle name is not nearly so cool as that of Jason Alias Heyward.

Still, middle names aside, the fact is you have to weigh out how much better is Heyward likely to be than Piscotty going forward, and then decide if that difference is worth the massive contract the J-Hey Kid will command. The answer to that question is complicated, in that if you want to measure the values of the players respectively, against their salaries, in a vacuum, then the answer is probably no, Heyward would not be a good investment. Of course, we all understand these kinds of valuations are not made in vacuums, and so the question requires a bit more thought.

However, in thinking about the possibilities for a Heyward contract, and how Stephen Piscotty potentially fits into that equation, I also got to thinking about something else; another situation where Piscotty potentially has a say going forward. It's over in that other corner outfield spot. The one where Piscotty is currently playing a lot.

You know, the one where Matt Holliday usually plays.

It's kind of shocking to think about, but Matt Holliday's contract is very nearly up. He has one more season after this on the deal he signed before the 2010 season, and then an option for the 2017 season. It's that option season that I'm thinking really hard about right now.

The option for 2017 is for $17 million, with a $1 million buyout. So, the Cardinals are on the hook for a million anyway, meaning you can basically set the decision at one year and sixteen million. In the current environment in major league baseball, clubs are paying in the $7 million range per marginal win of value added. Given the current inflation rate with new television deals and the like, it wouldn't seem unreasonable to see that number be closer to $8 million by 2017, but for now we'll just stick with seven, okay?

At $7 million per WAR, Matt Holliay would need to be worth something around 2.3 wins in 2017 to be worth that option year number of $16 million. So, first question: how likely is it Matt Holliday will be worth at least that much in 2017?

Well, consider this: in 2014, having what is widely considered to be a slightly down season offensively for him, Holliday was worth 3.6 wins. This season, in roughly 40% of a season, he has been worth 1.2 wins. How much more value we should expect from Holliday this year, considering his injuries and all that, is a tough question to answer. But, if we just extrapolate out his numbers, he would have been about a 3 win player for a full season. Considering he is in the decline phase of his career, seeing Matt drop half a win in value doesn't seem unreasonable.

If we carry that forward, Holliday would probably be worth about 2.5 wins in 2016, and around 2.0 wins in that 2017 season. So, maybe a little short of the break-even point for the salary. However, as good as he has been, and as much of a boon as he's been for the Cards over the past half-decade, I have no problem saying that Matt Holliday in 2017 for $16 million is just fine.

However, the other question, the much more complicated one, is this: would the Cardinals be better off with Matt Holliday playing left field every day in 2017, or Stephen Piscotty? And this is where it gets tough.

Stephen Piscotty, in roughly a quarter of a season's worth of playing time, has been worth 1.4 wins above replacement. Now, I don't believe Stephen Piscotty is a ~5.5 win player, necessarily, but the point is he's been very good. The projection systems don't think much of him in terms of rest of season, but I also don't know that those numbers are very useful, given the limitations of projections when the player in question has so little time in the big leagues.

So what kind of player do we think Stephen Piscotty could potentially be? Well, I feel comfortable saying I believe Stephen Piscotty is at least a league-average hitter. Anyone disagree? Honestly, I think he's a significantly better than league average hitter, but let's not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.

I also feel comfortable saying that Stephen Piscotty appears to be a very good corner outfielder. I base this on what I've seen of him at the major league level, and also some viewings of him in the minors, playing primarily right field. He has above-average range, catches what he gets to generally, and has a big throwing arm. The numbers, such as they are, agree with me, but the sample size is obviously so small as to be essentially meaningless. But eye test alone, I think Stephen Piscotty is an above-average fielder.

Matt Holliday, on the other hand, I think we can all agree at this point has fallen off defensively, and is now solidly in the below-average camp. That wasn't always the case; for most of his career, Holliday rated as an above-average left fielder. He didn't always look great out there; the opportunity for an awkward pirouette was seemingly ever-present. The numbers, though, say he was good, and I tend to agree. However, time has slowed Holliday down a fair amount, and he is now at least a mild liability in the field.

Holliday's UZR/150 this year (meaning the number of runs above or below average he would have saved, given 150 games of playing time), sits at -4.3, indicating he is worse than the average left fielder. Piscotty's, on the other hand, is a positive 9.9. Now, I needn't point out how meaningless that number is, given the ridiculously small sample, but I have to say, that actually skews pretty well with the eye test. So let's just assume, for the sake of argument, that Piscotty is something like 10-15 runs better in left than Holliday. That's about one win or so in terms of value.

Next question: is Matt Holliday in 2017 more than one win better than Stephen Piscotty offensively? The answer could very well be yes; again, without much in the way of projections for Piscotty that seem meaningful, it's tough to come up with hard math, but Matt Holliday, even in his mid-30s, is one hell of a dangerous hitter. But if you're asking me to compare 37 year old Matt Holliday (well past prime production years), to 26 year old Stephen Piscotty (smack dab in the middle of his prime, if not even at the beginning of it), then honestly, I would have to say I don't think there is that much of a gap. If, indeed, there is one at all.

So the ultimate question could very well come down to this: barring the designated hitter coming to the National League prior to the 2017 season, does it makes sense to pick up Holliday's option when you have a player like Stephen Piscotty available to play for virtually nothing in 2017? If the DH comes along between now and then, it's a no-brainer, probably; if there are only outfield spots available for Holliday to play, one has to wonder if the club would really be justified in not exercising the option and turning to the much younger, much cheaper, and probably at least comparable in quality option.

Matt Holliday has been the centerpiece of a magnificent run for the Cardinals over the past four years, as he has anchored the club's lineup in the wake of Albert Pujols's departure. It's hard to overstate how good Holliday has been for this organisation, and how wonderfully, delightfully wrong I was in worrying that the contract would become an albatross by year three. I was 100% wrong, and I've never been happier to admit that I had Matt Holliday completely misjudged in terms of value. He's been one of the most consistently excellent, if short of MVP-quality, players in all of baseball since he came to the Cardinals.

All that being said, the Cards have developed a slew of young outfield options in the intervening years from that time til now, and there is very good reason to believe that by the time the 2017 season opens, Matt Holliday may not be the club's best left field option period, much less the best option by ~$15 million or so.

John Mozeliak intimated earlier this season that the club would like to pick up Holliday's option. And it makes some sense, both from a he's-still-good-enough-to-be-on-the-field-producing standpoint, and also from a rewarding-performance-and-sustained-success standpoint. But if there is a better option already in house, or if not already in house then almost certainly in the version of the house that will exist in 2017, how good of an idea is it, really, to spend that money on Matt Holliday? Particularly when there is at least a fair chance the Cardinals will be paying Jason Heyward a very large salary by then, and will be staring down several of their current young bargain-rate star players (particularly of the rotation variety), getting expensive as well.

So I'll just put the question to all of you: sitting here today, in early September of 2015, does 2017 Matt Holliday look like a good investment to you? Or has watching someone else patrol left field made you think that maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't be such a bad thing if Holliday's tenure in St. Louis didn't necessarily last another two years?

Holliday has been amazing since signing the biggest free agent deal in Cardinal history. And in a perfect world, he would never age, or there would come along some other option to keep his bat in the lineup beyond being forced to play him in the outfield over a player as potentially valuable as Stephen Piscotty. But baseball can be a cold business sometimes, and I wonder if we won't see the Cardinals move on from Matt Holliday just a little sooner than we thought they would.