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Friday, July 24, 2009
Holliday gains value with Cards, but still not top 10


Now I see what the Oakland Athletics were doing when they dealt Huston Street and prospects they didn't want to acquire Matt Holliday from the Colorado Rockies this winter.

The haul they received in moving Holliday to the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday might not seem more attractive, but one name in it should certainly interest fantasy baseball owners.

Holliday is not having nearly as poor a season as many in fantasy baseball believe. In fact, a hot July has vaulted his statistics, other than batting average, to a pace similar to what he did for the Rockies last season. Holliday hit 11 home runs and stole 12 bases for the Athletics, while hitting .286. He was on his way to a 20/20 season, and would have threatened to score and knock in 100 runs. That's not worth complaining about. He's not even close to the top 10 of biggest fantasy disappointments, and he was playing very well of late.

Matt Holliday
Matt Holliday has just 11 homers this season, but he is hitting .344 this month.

In St. Louis, Holliday will certainly do no worse, but it's all about perspective. One would assume Holliday will inherit the valuable cleanup spot for the Cardinals, protecting Albert Pujols in the batting order, so there will be men on base. Then again, Pujols tends to knock in lots of runs himself. Expecting Holliday to go on some kind of offensive rampage in the final two months is unrealistic. Busch Stadium still isn't Coors Field, though it is a lot easier to hit in St. Louis than in Oakland. Holliday had very similar home/road splits this season, so I'm not assuming a ticket out of Oakland makes him, well, Pujols.

Expect Holliday to continue on his path to decent power numbers, probably a 25-100 season, and there's no reason he can't steal the occasional base, as well. In short, he gets better statistically, but don't go overboard. The Cardinals likely will drop rejuvenated Ryan Ludwick a spot in the batting order, which simply means more men on base for him. Ludwick is the No. 12 outfielder on ESPN's Player Rater over the past 30 days, one spot ahead of Holliday, and he has legitimate 30-home run power. Wow, the Cardinals should really improve after making this trade. Consider that Cardinals left fielders had hit .212 this season -- mostly the recently dumped Chris Duncan -- with a .635 OPS. Holliday is a monster improvement. With Colby Rasmus entrenched in center field and Ludwick playing well, this means Rick Ankiel is irrelevant in fantasy, unless the Cardinals move him. Feel free to part ways with Ankiel, if you haven't already.

The reason I like this move for the Athletics is because third base prospect Brett Wallace has all the makings of a future star. He was the No. 2 prospect in the St. Louis system according to both Baseball America and ESPN.com's Keith Law, and the No. 57 fantasy prospect for this season, as noted back in March by our own Jason Grey. The seemingly low ranking was merely a product of Grey believing the Cardinals would not rush Wallace to the big leagues, not an indictment of his future value. For keeper leagues, Wallace might have made Grey's top 10.

Wallace might not play very much for the Athletics this season, so I would caution those in one-year leagues from using up a top waiver position to get him. Wallace began this season in Double-A and performed well enough, but wasn't hitting for a ton of power. With Triple-A Memphis he had hit better of late, but again, this is a 22-year-old kid who could use more seasoning. Fantasy owners always want their rookies promoted right away, and they have unreasonable expectations.

Wallace remains a relative butcher at third base, on the level of Ryan Braun a few years back. While his bat would probably translate to the majors right away, his glove probably doesn't just yet, so there's little need to rush him. In 2010, however, expect him to be the starting third baseman who could hit at least 20 home runs and bat .275 as a rookie. I don't think the lefty-hitting Wallace will be Ryan Braun, but he has impressive power.

While Wallace was the Cardinals' No. 2 prospect (after Rasmus, incidentally), Clayton Mortensen came in at No. 6 on the Baseball America list. Mortensen is a 24-year-old right-hander who doesn't really project as an ace, but could be a back-of-the-rotation starter. Mortensen pitched one game in relief for the Cardinals in June, and it didn't go well. His stock rises a bit going to Oakland's spacious stadium, since he's a ground-ball pitcher and not a big strikeout guy, but again, it's premature to expect Mortensen to help fantasy owners this season. I do expect the Athletics will use him as a starter pretty much right away, since they're not sending superstars out there now (Gio Gonzalez allowed 11 runs in his start Monday) but the numbers would worry me. Mortensen had a 4.37 ERA and 1.30 WHIP for Memphis, including getting torched for 11 hits and six runs against Nashville earlier this week. He's not Tommy Hanson or David Price.

Don't expect your Athletics starting pitchers to win many games the next two months thanks to the gaping hole in the Oakland lineup. Scott Hairston has been hitting third since his acquisition, which isn't really a good thing. Jack Cust is what he is, and the outfielder who picks up the playing time in left field isn't someone likely to save a fantasy roster. Rajai Davis can run. Ryan Sweeney can't stay healthy. Travis Buck hasn't broken out. Anyone else want to see what Aaron Cunningham could do playing every day? I would, but would it be worth it in a 10-team league? Shane Peterson is the most unknown of the prospects heading to Oakland, but he's 21, hasn't played above Double-A ball and doesn't have much pop yet. Next.

Ultimately, only one player in this major trade was on fantasy rosters to start with, and Holliday is the one affected the most, as he again switches leagues -- sorry to those in AL-only formats -- but let's not presume his numbers are going to change so much he becomes a top-10 talent. That was last year, and the air was a lot thinner.