(Baseball StL) – Allen Craig continues to be the Cardinal cure-all. The 28-year-old first baseman/outfielder plays any position he’s asked with skill, drives more people home than a chauffeur and represented the Birds in the All Star Game.
Sunday was the latest in a string of games Craig has left his stamp on. His RBI in the third moved his average with runners in scoring position to an eye-popping .489, and his catch to end the game in left field saved the win.
It was that catch that, once again, shined a light on Matt Holliday and his troubles in the field.
Holliday can hit a ball harder than any human being on the planet, but he’s not earning that $17 million a year by doing so. His .268 average, .351 OBP and .448 slugging percentage aren’t fatal, but they are all either career lows or right on the edge (.349 OBP in his rookie campaign).
Couple that with shaky fielding and you start to have a problem. In fairness, Holliday is a career .310 hitter with an impressive body of work at the plate. His WAR last season was fifth at his position and 24th overall. However, all great hitters are great until they aren’t.
At some point, players start to slow down. When they do, you hope you don’t end up paying them for past performance. Holliday has a contract with the Cardinals through 2016 with a 2017 club option. He gets $17 million dollars a year with a $1 million buyout.
If this season (his worst to date) is an outlier, then that money is still a good investment. If it’s not, (given that his average, OBP and slugging percentage have all been declining over the last four seasons, it’s not a great sign) then the Cards have $51 million tied up for the next three seasons in a declining hitter with a little upside in left field.
The argument has been made that we’re too hard on Holliday in the field, and we latch on to one or two plays- choosing to define him by those moments. The issue is not that Holliday dropped a few balls. It is that he makes too much money for us to be nervous when a ball is hit to left.
Sunday’s game was a prime example. The game-ending ball was driven to the fence, and Craig leapt to catch it, crashing into the wall in the process. He came down with the ball and ended an incredibly tense ninth.
Whether or not Holliday would have made the catch is an irrelevant debate. However, most Cardinal fans will admit had he been in left, a heavy feeling of dread would have worked its way into their gut when that ball took flight.
His uncertainty with the glove- especially on balls like that- has ingrained in us a wariness that borders on fear when the game is on the line. $17 million should buy more piece of mind than that.
Allen Craig’s $1. 75 million this year just keeps looking better and better. Will he get replace Matt Holliday in left permanently? Probably not. However there may come a time when the game is on the line and a ball rockets off a bat to left, and for the split second it’s in the air, we just might wish he had.