Yanks Should Reconsider Matt Holliday

Since about a week after the Yankees won the World Series, I’ve had my blogging eyes focused forward, trying to envision how the 2010 Yankees would look while defending their 2009 championship. I’ve discussed free agent DH options, who doesn’t make sense for the Yankees at the plate, who doesn’t make sense on the mound, who does make sense, as well as two different looks at the possible Yankee lineups.

matt-hollidayAll of these posts advised the Yankees to stay away from the big names out on the market–Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, John Lackey, etc.–and stick to the smaller moves, like retaining Damon and/or Matsui and bringing in a stop-gap guy like Mike Cameron.

After yesterday, however, three of those players are no longer available. Neither is Roy Halladay after a blockbuster trade involving the Phillies, Mariners, and Blue Jays (what a stupid deal for the Phillies, huh?). Let’s review:

John Lackey signed a five year, $85MM contract with the Red Sox, so he’s off the market. This clearly strengthens the Red Sox’s starting rotation, but like the A.J. Burnett deal, the Sox could be kicking themselves at the end of this one. Lackey’s on the wrong side of 30 and has had arm injuries in the past two seasons.

My favorite free-agent target this season, Mike Cameron, was also signed by the Red Sox. It’s a good deal for them as he improves their outfield defense. I think it’s foolish of them to put him in left field, but that’s just me. This option is now off the board.

Hideki Matsui signed a one year deal with the Angels, worth about $6.5MM. This deal got me a little more riled up than the Lackey one, because I did want the Yankees to retain Matsui for the DH spot. It seemed pretty apparent that the Yankees were never more than lukewarm in their desire to bring Matsui back for 2010. While letting him go is upsetting, the Yankees must not think his body will hold up for all of 2010. Like they say, it’s always better to let the guy go a year early than a year two late.

Matsui and Cameron leaving the market hurts the Yankees in one big way: it shoots their leverage in negotiations with Johnny Damon right in the foot. Had the Yankees signed Matsui or Cameron, they could’ve said “we love you, Johnny. But, as you can see, we don’t need you all that much now. So, do you really wanna play for the Yankees next year?” While I doubt the Yankees will cave and offer Damon a “long” (read: more than two years) contract, Johnny’s position just got a little bit stronger.

All of this means one thing: Matt Holliday looks like a much better option than he did last week. For a month now, I’ve been calling for the Yankees to avoid Holliday, as his deal would be too long and his salary would be too high. Things, however, have changed a bit. The deal that brought Curtis Granderson to the Yankees was probably the biggest change. The trade, as we know, sent outfield prospect Austin Jackson to the Detroit Tigers. Without Jackson, the Yankees no longer have an outfielder knocking on the door. Without that outfielder knocking on the door, the need for a stop-gap option, like Mike Cameron on a short deal, isn’t all that high. The Yankees now have center field locked down through at least 2012 with Granderson (2013 option) and they don’t have any candidates in the minors to take over any outfield spots any time soon. These factors–no ready prospect, no stop-gaps–are combining to make Matt Holliday coming to the Yankees seem like a better possibility.

The Yankees don’t need Holliday. They could very easily roll with Melky Cabrera as the left fielder heading into 2010, as long as they sign a legitimate hitter to the DH spot (Damon? Thome? Delgado? Johnson? Trade for Adam Dunn if he’s available?) to back up the below-average offense in left field. But, in light of recent events, I’m definitely willing to change my position on big Matty H.

Word is the Cardinals have offered Holliday a deal worth $16MM per season that could extend for eight years. The Yankees could definitely beat that offer in terms of money. There is no way that the Yankees should offer Holliday more than five years at most, but they could offer him more than $16MM per season. If I were Brian Cashman, I’d put a call in to the Holliday camp and offer a contract that was shorter–four to five years maximum—but gave out more in terms of average annual value–$17.5-$19.5MM per year.

Looking ahead to next year’s free agent class, there isn’t much in the outfield, so filling the potential hole in left field now seems prudent; it’s better to do it now before there’s nothing with which to fill the hole. Carl Crawford is the top choice in a weak hitter’s class, and I would like to have him on the Yankees, but I’m souring on Carl a bit. I don’t think we can expect his on-base skills to improve at this point in his career and his power has never been more than slightly above average. His game is largely based around speed and defense; those skills are not skills that will age well. Crawford, who will be the same age heading into 2011 that Holliday will be heading in to 2010 (30), will likely want a four year deal. That means it would expire in 2014, the same year a five year deal offered to Holliday during this offseason would end. The question then becomes: who would be more likely to live up to his contract in 2014? Chances are, it’s going to be Matt Holliday.

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