Needing to upgrade an offense that had scored three or fewer runs six times in the previous two weeks, and finding it increasingly difficult to convince teams to pitch to Albert Pujols(notes), the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday struck a deal for the biggest bat on the trade market.
By early afternoon, Matt Holliday(notes) had packed up in his midtown Manhattan hotel room; put his pregnant wife, Leslee, and two children on a train; and was headed for Philadelphia, where his new ballclub would play the first of a three-game series against the Phillies. The Oakland A's will receive three prospects for Holliday, including well-regarded Brett Wallace(notes). The trade is expected to be announced in the next hour.
The Cardinals did not require a physical for Holliday, who had missed only one game for the A's this season. Holliday could be somewhere behind Pujols in the Cardinals' lineup Friday night when they face Phillies lefty J.A. Happ(notes) at 7:05 p.m. ET at Citizens Bank Park.
Pujols has walked 74 times already. He's been intentionally walked a baseball-high 34 times; the next closest (Chipper Jones(notes) and Adrian Gonzalez(notes)) were intentionally walked 13 times. Traded for the second time in nine months and due to become a free agent at the end of the season, Holliday would bat cleanup directly behind Pujols – or fifth, behind Pujols and Ryan Ludwick(notes).
Wallace, a left-handed-hitting third baseman, was the 13th overall pick in the 2008 draft and has been promoted by the Cardinals from A-ball to Class AAA in about a year. The Athletics also are thought to have received right-handed Class AAA pitcher Clayton Mortensen(notes) and Class AA outfielder Shane Peterson, and kicked in about $1.5 million toward Holliday's salary. Wallace and Mortensen could be in the big leagues before the season is over; Peterson, if he continues to develop, could be a late 2010 arrival.
In early November, the small-market A's surprised many when they acquired Holliday for pitchers Huston Street(notes) and Greg Smith(notes) and outfielder Carlos Gonzalez(notes), signaling that they expected to contend in the AL West. That hasn't happened. The offense has been awful, in part because Holliday did not produce, and a young pitching staff has been promising but inconsistent. And while GM Billy Beane and assistant David Forst were deciding whether to trade Holliday or take the draft picks when he signed elsewhere in the winter, the Cardinals came along with another good young arm and the prospect the A's hope will be the answer to Eric Chavez(notes)'s injury-ravaged career.
Meantime, the Cardinals geared up for a two-month race in the NL Central by adding Holliday to their earlier acquisition of utility slugger Mark DeRosa(notes). The pitching staff has been the best in the division, but the offense, especially reliant on Pujols, has slipped some in July. Seeking offense out of left field, Tony La Russa tried Chris Duncan(notes) (since traded to the Red Sox for middle infielder Julio Lugo(notes)), Rick Ankiel(notes) and Nick Stavinoha(notes), but they've been ineffective. In the National League, only the Padres and Diamondbacks have worse on-base plus slugging percentages from their left fielders.
Holliday struggled in his first half-season in the American League after spending five seasons with the Colorado Rockies in hitter-friendly Coors Field. He spent the winter redesigning his swing mechanics under the tutelage of former A's and Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire, never did feel comfortable with them, and recently returned to his signature leg kick. As a result, he was having his most productive month, batting .338 with three home runs and 14 RBI.