The Yankees’ offseason to-do list is now one task shorter after the team reportedly signed Matt Holliday to a one-year, $13M deal yesterday. The longtime left fielder for the Rockies, Athletics (not so long), and Cardinals will join the Yankees to become the club’s primary designated hitter. He could see time in the field at first base and the outfield, but the rigors of everyday play in the field for the soon-to-be 37 year-old should be no more. Defense isn’t what the Yankees need from him, anyway. The team needs him to hit the snot out of the ball in 2017, and given his track record and outlook, he is more than capable of doing so.
Holliday is a shrewd addition in a free agent class chock-full of players of his ilk. He was’t the most obvious candidate for the Yankees, with a Carlos Beltran reunion seeming inevitable and the rumors regarding Edwin Encarnacion. Yet, Holliday makes the most sense compared to not only Beltran and Encarnacion, but the remaining available hitters of that mold.
Steamer, available on Fangraphs, projects Holliday to have the third-best wRC+ of free agents that, entering the offseason, were best fit for the Yankees’ void at DH. Only Encarnacion and Jose Bautista have better outlooks, but neither of those players could be had on a one-year deal. As mentioned, the Yankees were linked to the former, but there wasn’t much indication of any interest in Joey Bats. That makes sense. Though Bautista would have been a fine DH, he doesn’t offer experience at first base like the rest of the group. Again, though, Bautista is going to command a multi-year deal, which the Yankees would have presumedly passed on.
After ruling out Encarnacion and Bautista, Holliday stands out from the rest of the bunch. I suppose there is an argument for Mark Trumbo, whose impressive season is sure to land him a nice windfall. His new team (or the Orioles) would have to feel strongly that his 2016 performance isn’t an outlier in a career that’s been much closer to what Steamer expects for 2017. Of course, Trumbo and his agent are going to sell his 47 home run season as his true ability while ignoring everything else. The Yankees are smarter than guaranteeing a player like Trumbo a multi-year contract.
Let’s talk about signing Holliday instead of Beltran now. Beltran will be paid $16M to play for the Astros next season, $3M less than Holliday for the same term. The money isn’t the only advantage in adding Holliday over Beltran. The 2017 projection, versatility, and age clearly favor Holliday. While the Yankees certainly have their own internal projections that perhaps might have pegged Beltran and Holliday closer to each other in offensive forecasts, it’s very likely that Holliday’s ability to handle first base and age put him on top. Granted, Holliday has only played just over 60 innings at the position, but Beltran has made it clear he does not like or want to play first.
Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, and Steve Pearce make up what’s left of the 1B/DH options. They’re the clearance aisle of free agency, if you will. Only Pearce projects to clearly be an above average hitter, with Napoli and Moss teetering just above the 100 wRC+ mark. For what it’s worth, the league average DH posted a 115 wRC+ in 2016, so none of these three really are up to snuff for the role.
For a transitioning franchise, the best option for the DH role had to be a player willing to sign for only 2017. It would have a bonus if said player could manage some time at first base, too. In Holliday, the Yankees made the best choice of the bunch.