The New York Yankees inked 37-year-old free agent Matt Holliday to a one year deal worth $13 million, filling a designated hitter need after bowing out of the Carlos Beltran sweepstakes. In a mainly underwhelming free agent class, the Yankees elected to go with Holliday over other free agent options such as Mike Napoli, Kendrys Morales, or the most powerful free agent bat in Edwin Encarnacion, who has torched the Yanks as a member of the Blue Jays for three seasons now.
Encarnacion is an unquestionable talent who has ranked in the top two in the majors in home runs and RBIs in the last five seasons and has a track record of health, having played in 160 games last season. He clearly has the offensive and health edge over Holliday and has experience with pitchers in the AL East due to his time with Toronto.
Nevertheless, the Yankees made the right move. Encarnacion and his agent Paul Kinzer are seeking a contract in the four- or five-year area and turned down a return to Toronto’s offer of four years and $80 million. Clearly, their plan was to score big in a free agent market littered with lesser bats.
However, that plan has seemingly backfired with the Blue Jays signing Morales and Steve Pearce to fill their vacancies, while the Astros snagged Beltran and the Yanks signed Holliday. Clearly, other clubs are paying closer attention to the risks of signing players who are approaching their mid-thirties to long-term contracts. Nobody wants another Albert Pujols-type situation.
The Yankees looked at the asking price and the age behind the free agent (Encarnacion turns 34 in a month) and elected to go with a temporary fill while the club continues to rebuild. Why go against the grain of what they did last season and sign another overpaid star nearing the twilight of his prime? The Yanks have plenty of experience with contracts of that nature, and finally said no. Holliday is likely no longer an All-Star, but he has hit at least 20 home runs in six of the last seven seasons (the only season he fell short was due to playing just 73 games after suffering an injury in the outfield). The Yankees need a power presence in the lineup after losing Beltran, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira. Gary Sanchez is not going to go deep every game; the power has to come elsewhere too.
Holliday is a health risk, but confining him to a DH role will certainly help his durability. With Greg Bird and Tyler Austin at first base and a full outfield, Holliday will rarely be needed defensively and can focus on hitting home runs and staying healthy in 2017. Next season is expected to be a season of transition for the Yankees, who will continue to evolve their new core of youngsters as they await the coveted free agent class of 2018 and really make a move to return to the top of the baseball world. The signing of Holliday not only fills a need for this season, but also fits the Yankees’ future plans. He is simply a bridge to the future, and unloading money on a player like Encarnacion would have been a step back from what the Yankees have been working toward since the trade deadline.
The Yankees don’t need to make a big splash right now. Instead, they made a smart signing that will keep the Yankees somewhat competitive in 2017 and be off the books within a year’s time, when the real revamping can begin. Brian Cashman is banking on the Yankees’ biggest splashes to come from within, not the free agent market. I’d say it worked out for them last time they tried this method (see 1996, 1998, 1999, etc.).