Matt Holliday trade makes Cardinals the NL Central favorite

Matt Holliday

By Jake McCormick

Next stop for the St. Louis Cardinals: A Holliday in the sun.

After trading for the versatile Mark DeRosa, the Cardinals looked spent like Austin Powers. The team already didn’t have a lot of money to work with and the farm system isn’t the strongest in the league. But somehow they’ve managed to finagle a deal for the most prized hitter on the market in Matt Holliday, thanks to the A’s willingness to swallow $1.5 million of the remaining $6 million on his contract. The team was forced to part with top minor league prospect Brett Wallace, but like the CC Sabathia trade a year ago in the NL Central, it is a small price to pay for huge dividends.

Holliday, who I hope has already started growing his man ’stache, has struggled to find consistency this year with the Oakland A’s, with a batting average of .286, a .378 on-base percentage, 11 home runs and 54 RBIs. Those numbers are struggles for most players, but Holliday came to Oakland after a strong season with the Colorado Rockies in 2008 and was poised to duplicate his numbers to boost his stock this offseason in the free agent market. But Holliday has had trouble adjusting to American League baseball and the Mausoleum stadium compared to the Kate Moss-thin air of Coors Field.

There is reason to fear the slugger in more ways than just his spot behind Albert Pujols in the order. Since the All-Star Break, Holliday is hitting a scorching .387 with a .429 OBP, 3 home runs, and 11 RBIs. Over the whole month of July his average registers at .338 with a .413 OBP, so it looks like he’s starting to find a consistent stroke at the plate. With Holliday batting behind Pujols and in front of the red hot Ryan Ludwick, his RBI and home runs totals should easy improve. I’d even go on record saying that as of the trade’s completion, the Cardinals have the best lineup top to bottom in the NL Central, which is nice considering they are in first place.

Holliday’s impact will also be felt among the rest of the Central teams still in contention. By landing the biggest hitter on the market, the Cardinals put added pressure on the Cubs, Astros, and Brewers to make some move, any move, just to keep up. When Milwaukee traded for Sabathia last year, the Cubs almost immediately went out and picked up Rich Harden and Chad Gaudin. The only possible counter trade of equal impact would be bringing Roy Halladay into the division, but that seems less likely because he has another year on his contract and the Blue Jays are asking for roughly an entire farm system.

So come next week, the St. Louis Cardinal lineup should read as follows:

1. Skip Schumaker – 2B
2. Colby Rasmus – CF
3. Albert Pujols – 1B
4. Matt Holliday – LF
5. Ryan Ludwick – RF
6. Mark DeRosa – 3B
7. Yadier Molina – C
8. Pitcher X (Damn La Russa’s unconventional methods)
9. Brendan Ryan – SS

The Cardinals’ biggest concern this year has been hitting, as the starting pitching and bullpen have performed better than expected. They solved part of the problem by bringing in DeRosa, and the addition of Holliday boosts the Cardinal lineup into the conversation when talking about the best batting orders in the National League and makes them the favorite to win the division. Time will tell if this trade pays off, but the rewards were far too high not to take that risk.