Re-signing Mike Napoli could be good; going after someone big like Dexter Fowler or Justin Turner could be an exciting change of pace, but do not count out the Cleveland Indians targeting Matt Holliday. Looking at their recent free agent patterns, and their reluctance to build a team through free agency, it makes too much sense to completely write off.
At the top of his game, Matt Holliday was one of the league’s best hitters. He had seven-straight seasons with a wRC+ of 140 or more, with more than half of those coming from his time with the St. Louis Cardinals. Holliday started his career in the hitter-friendly Coors Field of the Colorado Rockies, but he was equally great when he was traded to the Oakland Athletics and then onto the Cardinals.
Holliday is now entering the twilight of his career at 36 years old. Much like Rajai Davis and Mike Napoli before the Indians signed them, he is coming off of a "down" year, but his season was cut short by a thumb injury in mid-August. He has only played in 183 games over the last two seasons due to various injuries and, being in the National League, there was nowhere for his aging legs to hide. That would change with the Indians.
Even while having to play in the outfield — despite never being very good at it — Holliday still slashed .246/.322/.461 with 20 home runs in 2016. Since 2006, he has only failed to hit 20 home runs once: In 2015 when he hit four in 73 games.
While Holliday’s walk rate took a significant dip in 2016 (8.2%), his strikeout rate remains right around his career average (16.7%). His isolated power rating was .215 in 2016, the highest it had been since 2011. He may not be a great all-around player anymore, but he could probably be counted on for around 20 home runs without striking out in a third of his at-bats.
Steamer currently projects Holliday to have a big bounce-back year in 2017. The projection system has him slashing .274/.358/.465 in 518 plate appearances, including 19 home runs and a walk rate back in the double-digit percentages.
Last year’s experiment to play Napoli at first base was mostly a failure, as he was not much better at the position that Carlos Santana. Do the Indians just bite the bullet, leave Santana’s negative defense at first and let Holliday play designated hitter? I cannot imagine the Indians would give him much time in the outfield, but it could be an option once in a while — and Terry Francona loves options. Maybe they do give him a shot at first base, though, if he still has the athleticism.
MLB Trade Rumors estimates him at a one-year, $10 million contract; it all depends on how many people buy into the idea of Holliday bouncing back. After a few more dominoes fall, we will see if $10 million winds up being too high or too low. If it’s the former, and the Indians can get him for something closer to the deal they signed Napoli to last season, I hope they take the shot.