Rockies trying to keep Yankees in Holliday discussions

It’s a well-known ploy among teams and agents: make sure you float the notion that the Yankees are involved. The idea is that this will cause other teams to pony up more money, lest they lose out to the financial juggernauts of the East. Strategically this works better for free agents, but surely teams like to keep the Yankees involved when they’re talking trade. This winter, we’re seeing this logic employed by the Padres, in the Jake Peavy proceedings, and we’re starting to see it from the Rockies in their quest to deal Matt Holliday.

For today’s edition, we point to Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post. He opens the article talking about Brian Fuentes, a reported target of our crosstown rivals. In the bottom third, he talks about the potential trades of Garrett Atkins and Matt Holliday. He brings up an interesting point, though given the language he uses, it seems that this might be little more than a pipe dream:

There’s a growing likelihood that Matt Holliday will be traded at some point, given that the Rockies have conceded they won’t be able to sign him long-term. When surveying executives about a possible landing spot, the Yankees continue to pop up. One scenario floated: Yankees trade Hideki Matsui to Seattle and land Holliday with a package focusing on starter Phil Hughes.

Of course, trading Matsui doesn’t necessarily open up an outfield spot for Holliday. Brian Cashman has stated that the plan is to have Johnny Damon leading off and starting in left. Matsui, after surgeries on each of his knees in the past year, isn’t expected to play much, if at all, in the outfield. Judging by what we saw of him this year, that’s probably for the better.

The move would allow Damon to DH more frequently. He hit .320/.407/.437 as a DH in 2008 over 119 plate appearances. He was far worse in 2007 as a hitter only — .229/.316/.328 — though early season injuries and general lack of conditioning forced him into that role. He stepped up his production considerably later on that year after retaining his health. He could also play center field some games, perhaps enabling Brett Gardner to sit against lefties.

Renck misses the biggest obstacle in this scenario: Who do the Yanks get back from Seattle? It couldn’t be much. We’re talking about a guy who will turn 35 during the season, who can’t play the outfield, and who is scheduled to make $13 million in the final year of his contract. Even with salary relief coming from the Yankees, the proposition isn’t so attractive for the Ms. Why would they give up a young, controllable player — surely what the Yankees would seek in exchange — for such a player?

Hideki might be headed into the twilight of his career, but he can still be an effective player. If his surgically repaired knees can stand the rigors of DHing, he can provide more value to the Yankees offense than any player they could get in return. Because he’s essentially a one-year rental, teams won’t be apt to give up much value.

And then don’t get me started on trading Hughes for Holliday.

Assessing the Matt Holliday rumors

We’re starting to hear the whispers now, but as we approach the end of the season and gear up for the Winter Meetings, Matt Holliday is a name we’ll hear often. Perhaps there won’t be a Santana-esque situation surrounding the left fielder, but it will certainly garner considerable attention. The Rockies might want to sell Holliday, who will make $13.5 million in 2009 before reaching free agency, while they can still get something for him, rather than just take the two draft picks.

Last year, we saw the Twins pretty desperate to unload Santana before the start of Spring Training. While he denied everything, rumors swirled that the lefty ace would deny any possible mid-season trade. Holliday has no such leverage. If the Rockies don’t get a huge offer in the off-season, they could hold onto Holliday in hopes of dealing him in July. We saw some decent bounties for mid-season trades this year, and the Rockies surely know that. Plus, hanging onto Holliday gives them their best chance of competing in 2009.

Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post comments on the situation today. He leads with the Boston-Anaheim series, noting that both might be contenders for Holliday. Why the Sox would be mentioned, I don’t know, since they have their corner outfielders in place for 2009: Jason Bay and J.D. Drew. Renck notes that if Bay flops in the playoffs they could look to trade him for Holliday, but that’s something I just don’t envision. Plus, with his bomb of a homer last night, it might be a moot point anyway. Yet even if he flops, I’m 99.9 percent sure that Theo wouldn’t go trading Bay, due $7.5 million next year before reaching free agency, and someone like Clay Buchholz for Holliday. Doesn’t make much sense at all.

Renck brings the Yankees into the fold, mentioning speculation of a Hughes/Cano for Holliday swap. We’ve heard this before, and again I’ll note that it doesn’t make much sense. If Cano returns to even his 2006 levels he could be more valuable than Holliday. This is considering his position, which is at more of a premium than Holliday’s, his age, and his contract. To add Hughes to that deal, who will be under team control for quite some time to come, doesn’t make sense at all. Why trade two cost-controlled players for a guy with one year to go until free agency?

What troubles me about Holliday is that many are basing their desire for him on his stellar 2007 campaign, when he put up a line of .340/.405/.607. Anyone would want that kind of production, of course. Yet his home/road splits that year were quite pronounced: 1.157 OPS at home vs. .860 on the road. He improved his road OPS in 2008, .896, but as expected fell off at home, .963. So it’s not that he can’t hit on the road. Rather, it’s that his home numbers have been the cause of much of the hype surrounding him.

While I wouldn’t be opposed to adding Holliday, it doesn’t seem the price will be right this winter. By adding him, you’re subtracting your starting second baseman and a potential part of your rotation. You’re also adding a ton of payroll, both by presumably signing Holliday to an extension (which is no guarantee with Boras at the helm) and by going after Orlando Hudson to replace Cano. As down as some are on Cano and Hughes, I just can’t see anyone really justifying such a swap.