July 24, 2009

Is Jim Hendry with the Cardinals now?

The Athletics and Cardinals have completed a trade that sends outfielder Matt Holliday to St. Louis in exchange for third baseman Brett Wallace, outfielder Shane Peterson and right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen, sources confirmed to ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.
Even with the reported $1.5 million the Cardinals will get from the A's, this is just a horrible deal for them. First off, while much has been made of Holliday's poor season, his .286/.378/.454 line is right on par with his career road stats (.281/.351/.450), suggesting that any perception of Holliday as an elite hitter can be almost entirely attributed to Coors Field (Sound familiar, Vinny Castilla/Dante Bichette/Garrett Atkins fans?), where he's gone .357/.423/.645. While he might see a slight bump in his seasonal numbers from moving back to the easier league, if the Cards are expecting him to be this year's Manny Ramirez-to-the-Dodgers acquisition, they are most likely going to be sorely disappointed.

But where it really gets ugly? What the Cardinals gave up. While Mortensen's 24 and doesn't appear to be that great of a pitching prospect, Baseball America still ranked him #6 in the Cardinals system. The team's sandwich pick (#36 overall) in 2007, he had an impressive debut that year, when as a 22-year-old he (somewhat predictably) blew away Low-A hitters. Last year, the righty split time at AA and AAA, in the latter stop walking 42 while striking out just 57 in 80 innings. Back in Triple-A this year, he's been better, with an 82:34 K to BB ratio in 105 innings pitched, and has allowed about a hit an inning, right in line with his career rate. He could end up being a decent bullpen arm, but I wouldn't expect much more than that.

Peterson, the Cards' second rounder (#59) in 2008, is a corner outfielder/first baseman. The lefty debuted last year in the short-season New York Penn League, where in 275 plate appearances, he showed a propensity for hitting doubles (20), drawing walks (39) and whiffing (65 Ks), while posting a .291/.400/.409 line. He started this season in High-A, where both his walk and strikeout rates dropped, but after going .298/.367/.428 in 319 PAs -- remember, this was after skipping Low-A entirely -- he was promoted to Double-A. He's had just 80 PAs there, but has held his own at .284/.338/.405. While he might never hit for enough power -- I'm smelling a bit of a left-handed Matt Murton -- he is still just 21 years old and he can run a little bit too, going 12-for-13 in stolen bases this year.

Mortensen and Peterson alone would have represented a decent return for Holliday, but as prospects they pale in comparison to Wallace. With Colby Rasmus now in the majors, Wallace, a 22-year-old third baseman, was far and away the Cards' top minor leaguer. The 13th-overall pick in last year's draft, the lefty-hitting Wallace has already made it to Triple-A, where he's posted a respectable .293/.346/.423 line in 243 PAs. A little more than a year after leaving college, Wallace has accumulated 631 PAs -- split somewhat close to equally between A, AA, and AAA -- and gone .306/.390/.466.

Coming into the season, Baseball America ranked Wallace as the #40 prospect in all of baseball; ESPN's Keith Law, meanwhile, had him at 19. And his performance this year has only enhanced his standing. Any way you slice it, Wallace is one of the very best prospects in the minors, and giving him away for a middling talent like Holliday is an enormous blunder.

Holliday is raking in a cool $13.5 million this season in the final year of his contract. So if the Cardinals don't try to sign him to an extension -- something they might feel pressure to do, which would only compound their mistake, in my eyes -- he will become a free agent. But before you go adding a couple of compensatory selections to the Cardinals' side of the ledger, keep in mind that in order to get those extra draft picks, the Cardinals first have to offer Holliday arbitration. And that might present a huge risk for the Cards, because with teams likely to again be tight-fisted this off-season, Holliday just might accept, putting the Cardinals on the hook for another season in the $15 million range. There is a good chance that, like what was done with Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, and Bobby Abreu (among others), the Cardinals might decline to offer Holliday arbitration, meaning they would lose him -- and all those prospects -- for absolutely nothing. Whoops, I stand corrected. For two-and-a-half months of slightly-above-average corner-outfielder production.

Incidentally, I just read Walt Jocketty was out coffin shopping so that he'll have a suitable place in which to roll over.

1 comment:

  1. I've missed your writing and this really hit the spot. I don't care if he went 4 for 5 today, I agree with what you think.