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LaRussa on Matt Holliday

12.08.09 at 3:19 pm ET
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INDIANAPOLIS –St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa was the beneficiary of Matt Holliday’s excellence for the second half of last year, after the Cards acquired him from the A’s for three prospects. Holliday had struggled in Oakland, at least at the start of the year, and had amassed just a .286/.378/.454/.831 line with the A’s. He then proceeded to destroy the baseball as a member of the Cardinals, hitting .353/.419/.604/1.023 with 13 homers in 270 plate appearances.

As a result of those disparate lines, and Holliday’s immense success as a member of the Rockies before his four months in the A.L., there have been some mutterings that Holliday is a player better suited for the National League than the American League, and that he is vulnerable to the type of power pitching that is more prominent in the junior circuit.

LaRussa was presented with that hypothesis. He did not agree with it.

“I wish I could get away with being dishonest and say that’s true so that we could cut any American League teams out of this,” LaRussa mused. “But no, there are no restrictions to his game. I would not agree with that. Based on their All-Star and World Series success, there’s probably a little arrogance right now on the American League side. We need to start winning some games.”

Conversations with talent evaluators for three different American League teams revealed similar conclusions. They agreed that Holliday’s swing was out of whack at the start of his time in Oakland, resulting in a terrible start: a .244 average, .314 OBP, .394 slugging mark and .708 OPS through May 16. From there, however, Holliday rebounded, hitting .311/.412/.489/.900 over his final two months with the A’s.

As such, he remains far and away the best alternative to Jason Bay for the Sox. That does not mean that he is a better player — he might be a slightly better bet for an extra year because he is younger, but offensively and defensively, the two are evaluated as being very, very similar players.

One relevant difference in the markets for the two players, however, may be the pace at which they seek deals. Holliday, represented by agent Scott Boras, could follow a common pattern of Boras clients in taking a very deliberate appraoch to the market. That, in turn, could leave clubs antsy — including a Cardinals team that would very much like to retain Holliday.

“We refuse to believe that we’re not a real attractive ballclub for Matt, his experience with us for a couple months being a big plus for us,” said LaRussa. “The timing is a critical part. … I don’t know how patient we could be.”

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