Rumors have it that the Phillies are pursuing Colorado Rockies left fielder Matt Holliday with vigor. Per CNNSI:
Any teams interested in acquiring Holliday understand that they will be getting him for only one year. Several teams have shown interest, including the A’s, Mets and Rays, but so far it appears the Phillies may have the best chance among those teams.
Just think about the headlines should a trade be completed… “Phillies trade Adam Eaton to Rockies for Holliday” … “Phils Acquire Holliday, Send Geoff Jenkins Packing” … “Phillies’ bullpen coach Mick Billmeyer sent to Colorado for Holliday” …
Just kidding — that’d be awful. Billmeyer is awesome.
That’d be nice, though, wouldn’t it? Of course, the Rockies aren’t stupid and would get their money’s worth in trading one of the game’s best hitters. CNNSI suggests the Rockies would want Shane Victorino back along with some youngsters, namely Lou Marson, Jason Donald, or Carlos Carrasco.
Would the trade be worthwhile? Holliday would simply be a one-year rental unless new GM Ruben Amaro plans on locking him up long-term, but he has to deal with the ballooning salaries of a number of arbitration-eligible players including Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels. In other words, Holliday would be a Phillie for one year and one year only.
It wouldn’t be worth it if the Phillies gave up one of their starting outfielders (Jayson Werth, Victorino) to acquire Holliday, an outfielder himself. It’s particularly useless in giving up Victorino because he plays the premium outfield position, has great speed, and above-average defense with a great throwing arm. Victorino was only slightly less valuable than Holliday in 2008, all things considered (not that we should expect Victorino to string together a bunch of ’08 seasons in a row). Additionally, the Flyin’ Hawaiian is going to be cheap at least for the next couple seasons as he enters arbitration: he made just under a half-mil in ’08; Holliday is due $13.5 million in ’09.
In terms of prospects, Jason Donald would be the easiest to relinquish since he’s roadblocked at shortstop by Jimmy Rollins, and probably wouldn’t translate well at another position, defensively speaking. The Phillies would have nowhere to play him anyway; the infield is set with Howard, Utley, Rollins, and Feliz/Dobbs/Bruntlett.
The Phillies’ Minor League system isn’t deep at the top (at the AAA and AA levels) and Carrasco is both the system’s best pitcher and the closest to being Major League-ready, unless you count J.A. Happ. If the Phillies go into ’09 with a rotation of Hamels-Myers-Blanton-Moyer-Happ (with Kyle Kendrick picking up mop-up duty in the bullpen, or working on his stuff in AAA), they have to hope that no one struggles or gets injured as there would be very little from which to choose from as a replacement — just Kendrick and Adam Eaton.
If you recall back to late-July, the Phillies were inquiring about several players including Holliday, but almost every team wanted catching prospect Lou Marson. Correctly, the Phillies declined every request for Marson. Let’s be honest: despite his amazing World Series performance, Carlos Ruiz should not be an everyday starting catcher, and Chris Coste isn’t much better and won’t be around forever. Good catchers are hard to come by, and the Phillies have a legitimately good catcher in Marson — Amaro should put a big, red “not for sale” sign on him.
Assuming a trade does get worked out — and this is why the off-season is awesome: very few of the trade rumors pan out — how much value would Holliday bring to the Phillies? Baseball Prospectus put him at 9.5 Wins Above Replacement Player last season. Their replacement level is very low, so he’s not actually worth 9.5 WARP in today’s game. Pat Burrell was worth 6 WARP. In-house replacements — some combination of Geoff Jenkins, Greg Golson, and Greg Dobbs — would likely significantly under-perform both totals.
Unlike Burrell, Holliday has some range in left field. Even playing in one of the most spacious outfields among all Major League ballparks, Holliday posted the third-best RZR among qualified LF in the Majors, behind only Carl Crawford and Fred Lewis; Burrell ranked dead last on that list.
Holliday’s most surprising statistics of 2008 weren’t his OPS and RZR; it was his stolen base total and success percentage: 28 and 93.3%, respectively. He’s a big guy — 6’4″, 235 according to his B-R page — so it’s impressive that he not only steals that many bases, but does so at such a high success rate (70-75% is considered to be around the break-even point where stealing bases becomes a worthwhile endeavor).
We haven’t even talked about the offense yet, and already I’m starting to salivate — are you? In his five seasons in the Majors, his OBP has increased every single season and his SLG did until last season, but it was still impressive.
There is a concern: Holliday, over his career, has been much better at Coors Field — a very hitter-friendly ballpark — than on the road: a 1.068 OPS at home to .803 on the road. There is good news: Citizens Bank Park is also hitter-friendly, and less spacious, so the Phillies would essentially be getting the Matt Holliday we all know and love.
Food for thought: Holliday’s overall offensive numbers might be suppressed a bit since he plays in the most pitching-heavy division in baseball: the NL West, with such names as Brandon Webb, Dan Haren, Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Derek Lowe, Tim Lincecum, and Matt Cain. He’d move to the NL East, where you really only have to worry about Johan Santana, who is left-handed (Holliday has an .892 OPS against lefties in his career). The only non-Phillie, non-Santana starting pitchers in the NL East to post an ERA under 4.00 in 2008 were Ricky Nolasco, Jair Jurrjens, Mike Pelfrey, and John Lannan.
A trade for Holliday makes sense if we assume that the Phillies’ starting rotation is fine, and it is as long as Moyer re-signs. The Phillies, otherwise, are one twisted ankle or index finger blister away from having to send Kendrick or Eaton to the bump — that alone should be enough to scare GM Amaro into pleading with Derek Lowe to come to Philadelphia. As I mentioned in this entry, the Phillies realistically will only have about $20 million with which to address the 25% of their roster that is still questionable.
If Moyer cheaply re-signs — something like $8 or 9 million for one season — with the Phillies, that would leave them with enough salary flexibility to afford Holliday, and the other pieces (5th OF, middle relief) are fixable with cheap players that will be laying around in February and March, or in the system. And the most realistic best-case scenario is that the Rockies take a deal like Happ-Carrasco-Golson, or — even better — they take on Geoff Jenkins as well to offset about $7 million in salary. Worst case scenario is Amaro sending Marson and Ryan Madson and/or Victorino to the airport, Colorado-bound.
It’s highly likely Matt Holliday won’t be wearing a Phillies uniform when spring training rolls around, but it’s fun to dream about. While we’re dreaming, can you imagine what the Phillies’ SB numbers would look like with Holliday?