At 38 years old and unsigned in July after a barely passable 2017 season, it was fair to wonder if Matt Holliday had already played his last MLB game.
Sluggers well beyond the wrong side of 30 with little defensive value aren’t exactly commodities in MLB like they once were, and a .231/.316/.432 line with the Yankees last season left Holliday unsigned over the offseason.
That changed Saturday, as Holliday signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies, according to Fancred’s Jon Heyman. The move reunites Holliday with the organization with which he made his MLB debut and established himself as a frequent All-Star.
Matt Holliday is signing minors deal with his old Rockies team. Could be great story.
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 28, 2018
This agreement also has the curious side effect of placing Holliday and Carlos Gonzalez on the same team, nearly a decade after the two were traded for one another.
Why the Rockies signed Matt Holliday
He might not be his old All-Star self, but Holliday has still hit 39 homers in limited action over the last two seasons. That could be useful for the Rockies, as well as Holliday’s well-regarded clubhouse leadership.
Even at Coors Field, the Rockies are in serious need of some pop behind Nolan Arenado, Charlie Blackmon and the other usual suspects as they try to contend with the Dodgers and D-backs in a competitive NL race. Signing a minor-league deal, Holliday is essentially a lottery ticket that could pay off as a useful bench bat.
The best case scenario here for the Rockies is something like their experience with Jason Giambi. In three seasons hovering around the age of 40, Giambi posted a .375 on-base percentage and above-average OPS+, which adjusts for Coors Field. Meanwhile, the veteran was enough of a positive clubhouse presence that he ended up interviewing to become the team’s manager.
The worst case probably comes in the form of Ryan Howard, an aging slugger who also signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies last season. The former Phillies MVP didn’t even make the majors with Colorado, posting a .627 OPS in the dramatically offense-friendly environment of the team’s Triple-A affiliate in Albuquerque.
What to expect from Matt Holliday
Since he signed a minor league deal, Holliday isn’t even officially guaranteed a spot on the Rockies’ MLB roster. However, he probably didn’t sign with the team without some kind of assurance he wouldn’t spend the rest of the 2018 season with Albuquerque.
Holliday finished the 2017 season at nearly exactly replacement level according to both bWAR and fWAR, despite registering 427 plate appearances. A season-long performance like that doesn’t usually bode well for a player as old as Holliday, but there’s at least some reason to think he was hitting better last season than the surface numbers suggest.
For starters, Holliday’s BABIP over the last two seasons comes in at .263, a steep fall-off from his .331 career mark. That’s despite Holliday posting xWOBAs–which determine what a hitter’s stats should be like according to his Statcast batted ball data–well in line with his All-Star 2015 season, according to Baseball Savant.
Despite that, Holliday went unsigned for months, even though all 30 MLB teams have access to those Statcast numbers and so much more. That could mean there are plenty of red flags if you dig even deeper into Holliday, but at the end of the day, this Rockies signing probably isn’t even about numbers.
Instead, it’ more about a contender with little postseason experience bringing in a widely respected clubhouse leader that was a major part of the franchise’s lone trip to the World Series, and paying a very low price to do so. Whatever the numbers say, that’s a move with extremely little risk and enough potential reward to make it worthwhile.
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