Matt Holliday's guaranteed contract ends this season. For 2017, the Cardinals have an option to keep Holliday for $17 million or buy him out for $1 million. Coming into this season, it seemed like a long-shot that the team would pickup the option year, but now it seems almost a certainty.
Matt Holliday will not be a St. Louis Cardinal next season.
A few days ago, Baseball Reference tweeted out a grid of where the Cardinals rank at each position in Wins Above Average. It was hard not to notice the one position where the Cardinals production has been below league average: Left field.
Not only does Holliday rank a full win below average by the Baseball Reference metric, he is only a half-win above replacement level according to Fangraphs. His 103 wRC+ puts him just barely above replacement level for any position player, let alone a left fielder. And his defense and baserunning continue to rate poorly.
If you're doing the dollars-per-WAR napkin math, whether you're figuring $7 or $8 million per win, Holliday does not look like he will come anywhere close to that $17 million.
Like every long-term contract, Holliday's was designed to provide enough surplus value early to pay for itself in the final years. It remains the largest contract in team history (7 years, $120 million), and as Alex noted before the season, it has been tremendously valuable.
Might the Cardinals pick up Holliday's option as a gesture of good will to a beloved, long-time cornerstone of the franchise? I doubt it.
In a conversation with Bernie Miklasz, Bill DeWitt said of Holliday: "He's been a great Cardinal in every way... But our history has been when you have an option, you just wait till it's time to exercise the option..." On the surface, it's a very noncommittal, political answer. But if you read between the lines of his full statement - thanking Holliday for all his work for the team and the community... it reads like a farewell to me. And that's what we should be saying to Matt Holliday over the final two months (and hopefully a few bonus weeks) of the season.
It's a shame that the team won't have a chance to say a more formal farewell to a player like Holliday, given the poker-face that GMs have to play with contract situations. Like when they wait out the Super-Two deadline before calling up a prospect, the front office will watch Holliday's final season play out without saying anything, though we will all understand what is going on. It's kind of a bummer, really.
Before the season, I thought there might be an outside chance that Holliday stuck around by re-negotiating an extension, likely a two-year deal that cut his annual salary to something more in-line with his present value. I can't see that happening now.
It's always possible that Holliday will retire - and the way he smashes his bat into the ground after a pop-up in a key situation suggests that he knows his ability is not where it once was. I think it's more likely that he plays another year or two, likely as more of a role-player, and almost certainly in another organization.
It's hard to imagine Holliday transitioning into a lesser role in St. Louis, and even harder to imagine the man the Cardinals pay to manage their team penciling him into that role if he were still on the roster.
And so it is, without any kind of acknowledgment or "Matt Holliday Day" at the ballpark, that we will watch one of the Top 20 Cardinals in offensive value in history play out the end of his time wearing the birds on the bat.