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Taking a Risky Holliday

St. Louis Cardinals GM, John Mozeliak, opened his pocketbook two days ago and gave free agent outfielder Matt Holliday a 7-year deal worth $120 million. Although this put many St. Louis constituents’ worries to rest, it raises just as many questions as it answers in the Cardinals front office. The deal, negotiated by who else but Scott Boras, is worth around $17 miilion a year for Holliday and includes a no-trade clause. This ties a significant amount of Cardinal money up through 2017, which could turn out to be problematic. Albert Pujols is up for free agency after the 2011 season and could be commanding up to $25 million a year. Pujols has publicly stated that he loves St. Louis and would prefer to remain a Cardinal for the rest of his career. He has also publicly stated that he measures success not by personal statistics, but by World Championships. At the 2009 All Star Game, Pujols openly expressed envy for Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter. Although Jeter’s stats pale in comparison to Pujols, Jeter has four rings compared to Pujols’ one. This desire to play for a contender would likely override Pujols’ comfort in St. Louis if the Cards weren’t willing to do what it takes to keep the team in contention throughout the rest of his career.

This is where the conundrum lies. The signing of Holliday shows Pujols that Cards management is serious about winning another World Series, but it also locks up a large chunk of funds for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the Cards are not going to be able to offer Pujols what he could bring in on the free agent market. The Cardinals management believes that Pujols’ desire to stay in St. Louis and remain an area icon for the rest of his career will take precedent over the dollar signs which will be thrown at him in next year’s free agency period. They believe that because they have shown their commitment to build a winning franchise around Pujols as their cornerstone, he will return the favor by accepting less money when that time comes. The Cards management took a risk in signing Holliday, but they, as well as I, believe that this risk will pay off when Pujols shows his loyalty to the team and the city by signing for significantly less than he could make if he chose to test the free agent waters

The only thing that could go wrong in St. Louis is if Holliday suddenly stops producing or suffers a career threatening injury. This would put the Cardinals right back where they started except for the fact that they still wouldn’t be able to show Pujols the money. If Holliday lives up to the expectations and performs anywhere near the level he did in last year’s second half, Mozeliak and the entirety of the Cardinals management will come out looking brilliant. Only time will tell…