The big contract this offseason was the deal given to Matt Holliday by the St. Louis Cardinals: a seven year deal with 120 million dollars in guaranteed money. The contract will pay $17 million dollars annually to Holliday, paying him as a roughly 4.5-5 WAR player to begin the contract and less as inflation of free agent contract (likely) picks up in subsequent offseasons.
At least for one season, the Cardinals are getting more than their money’s worth. Holliday has been absolutely fantastic for the Cardinals this season, slashing .307/.379/.535. He’s been above average in every factor of hitting, walking 9.3% of the time, striking out under 15% of the time, hitting for solid power with a .229 ISO, and posting a .323 BABIP that is actually a step back from his career .347 mark. Put it all together, and Holliday has a .392 wOBA and a 150 wRC+. Combine that with solid defense in left field – +8 UZR this season after three straight positive seasons – and Holliday checks in as a 5.8 WAR player so far in 589 plate appearances. With 21 games left this season, barring a major collapse down the stretch, Holliday should eclipse the six WAR mark for the second time in the last four seasons.
That means that Holliday will be worth somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 million dollars when all is said and done in 2010. This strong age 30 campaign not only provided the Cardinals with excellent value and kept them in the playoff race for most of the season, but it also bodes extremely well for next season and beyond. One of the major concerns with Holliday was that his decline phase could begin soon, but he showed no sign whatsoever of slowing down in 2010. ZiPS projects a .401 wOBA the rest of the way. CHONE’s updated projections have Holliday as a 4.4 WAR player over 150 games, and that’s assuming that he’s an average defender. According to these projections, Holliday should once again provide some value over his contract in 2011 as well.
With all that said, the issues with a seven year contract are rarely in years one and two. The worries around Cardinal Nation and elsewhere mostly had to do with paying Holliday, an elite player, but not an Albert Pujols or Chase Utley type, $17 million dollars as he approaches his late 30s. If Holliday was only performing at that market value 4.5 WAR mark, there would be reason to worry that Holliday could slowly depreciate into a below average player in the 5th, 6th, and 7th year of the contract. Holliday should still end up declining over the next six seasons, but with this season as a starting point, there’s far less reason for Cardinal fans to fret over the end of his contract. Barring catastrophe, his abilities should be able to keep up with inflation, and he just may provide surplus value for the Cardinals for years to come.
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