In a move that they hope will propel them to a second World Series title in four years, the St. Louis Cardinals acquired coveted slugger Matt Holliday from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for three minor league prospects. St. Louis had been rumored as a destination for Toronto’s star hurler Roy Halladay, but the team decided getting a proven hitter like Holliday to follow Albert Pujols in their lineup was a more pressing need in their playoff push. Despite a subpar supporting cast around Pujols the Cardinals still find themselves leading the NL Central by 1/2 game over the Chicago Cubs. Playing in one of baseball’s most competitive divisions, (the NL Central boasts four teams with records over .500) St. Louis’ addition of Holliday should make them the favorite to capture the Central.
At the time of the trade, 2007’s MVP runner-up was hitting .286 with 10 HRs, 54 RBIs and 12 SBs for the last place A’s. Holliday landed in Oakland during the off-season in a trade from the Colorado Rockies, a surprising move given Billy Beane’s track record for shying away from veterans with big contracts. Holliday struggled early in Oakland and the team quickly fell out of contention in the AL West. It wasn’t long before his name started to come up in baseball circles as a perfect complement to Pujols in the Cardinals’ lineup. St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa has long been a fan of Holliday from his days in Colorado, and the Red Birds were in desperate need of some offensive firepower to support their stellar pitching staff (3.72 team ERA ranks 3rd in NL). Holliday offers a rare blend of speed and power and the Cardinals hope their new slugger will make teams pay for pitching around Pujols who leads the league with 75 walks. Holliday will man leftfield opposite Ryan Ludwick, who continues to heat up after a slow start (.392-5 HR-24 RBI in July), forming a potent heart of the heart with Pujols. While this move makes the Cardinals the most talented team on paper in the NL Central, the Dodgers still remain the team to beat in the National League.
On the flip side of the deal, the constantly rebuilding Athletics acquire one of the best third-base prospects in baseball, 22-year-old Brett Wallace. The left-handed slugger out of Arizona State was the 13th overall pick in last year’s draft and had already reached Triple-A in the Cardinals organization. Wallace makes good contact at the plate, has plus-power for a corner infielder and hits left-handed pitching well. He is a below-average defensive third baseman and may be shifted to first base or DH, but his bat should have him playing full-time in Oakland by next season. The A’s also acquired Shane Peterson, a likely 4th outfielder in the majors unless he improves his plate discipline, and right-hander Clayton Mortenson, a groundball pitcher who projects as a fourth or fifth starter. On the surface it appears that Oakland received a better haul of prospects than they gave up for Holliday, and the move probably saved the team a bundle of money. Holliday is eligible for free agency at the end of the season, and if Oakland had offered him arbitration and he accepted, it would have cost them in the neighborhood of $17-18 million. However, if they declined to offer Holliday arbitration they would not have recieved two first-round compensatory picks in the 2010 draft, leaving Billy Beane little choice but to deal the slugger. As always, the A’s keen GM made the best of the situation, stockpiling the Oakland farm system with talented young players who could make an impact as early as next season.
Baseball’s first big trade of 2009 should set off a domino effect as teams in both leagues to seek to keep pace with St. Louis’ acquisition of Matt Holliday. The move puts pressure on the Phillies to up their offer for Roy Halladay and the Cubs almost certainly need to do something if they want to recapture the NL Central crown. The most nerve-wracking week in baseball just got more interesting, as the Cardinals take a major step forward, and the trade deadline continues to bear down on general managers with each passing minute.
Filed under: Baseball, NL Central, trades | Tagged: albert pujols, Billy Beane, brett wallace, chicago cubs, chris duncan, Clayton Mortenson, Colby Rasmus, LA Dodgers, Matt Holliday, MLB Trades, NL Central, oakland athletics, rick ankiel, Roy Halladay, Ryan Ludwick, St Louis Cardinals, Tony LaRussa, trade deadline |