The Yankees have a plan and signing Matt Holliday as their designated hitter signals they are sticking to it.
GM Brian Cashman weighed several long-term and short-term options on the DH market, but the blueprint for the organization screamed one-year deal, to which they settled. The club is not one year from serious World Series contention -- in fact they might be a couple of years away. So long-term deals for a DH made little sense.
I was hoping the Yankees would reunite with switch-hitter Carlos Beltran because I felt his left-handed power was a necessity and he was also looking for a one-year deal. Once Beltran signed with the Astros, I figured that Brandon Moss, a left-handed masher, would be a solid option. The Yankees obviously felt that they had enough left-handed hitters in the lineup and that adding another was not necessary.
Holliday has hit lefties and righties to the exact .897 OPS over the course of his 13-year career, which might have offset the need for another left-handed hitter. He does have the ability to hit to all fields, making the short porch in right field within reach. Also, playing in the American League East, Holliday will hit in parks where right-handed batters can thrive.
He has suffered from his share of injuries throughout the years, but I figure he will be used very little in the field, which should aid his health. He can be used in a pinch in the outfield and at first base, but his real value will be in the middle of the Yankees lineup on a daily basis. Holliday will likely provide the necessary protection for Gary Sanchez in the heart of the batting order.
Holliday's offensive presence could go a long way in this lineup. In just 426 plate appearances in 2016, he slugged 20 doubles and 20 home runs while driving in 62 runs. Holliday's exit velocity on balls put in play last season was 94.7 mph, which would have led the Yankees.
The broken thumb Holliday sustained when hit by a pitch and sidelined him for 44 games last season was more a fluke than it was a symptom of age, so those numbers should be surpassed with 550-600 plate appearances in 2017. Holliday had missed just eight starts in the Cardinals' 107 games until he suffered the injury. Assuming Holliday is not on the field more than 20-30 times during the season, I believe he will be quite productive at the plate.
Besides Holliday's injury history providing skepticism to the signing, there is the fact that he has minimal experience as a designated hitter. Over the course of his 7,489 career plate appearances, just 144 have been as a DH. In the small sample size, Holliday performed well in the spot, generating a .260/.340/.535 slash line with nine home runs and 26 RBI. While a learning curve as a DH could be in store, I don't think he will be deterred by the new role.
I would expect Holliday to hit in the .260-270 range and raise his OBP from last season's .320 back into the .360 area (he owns a career .382 mark). As for slugging percentage, Holliday has fluctuated from .441, .410 and .461 marks over the last three seasons respectively. Should he come close to the .450 area, he could have an OPS above .800. If he smacks 50-plus extra base hits and drives in 90 runs in the middle of the order, he'll surely aid a Yankees offense that struggled at times in 2016.
Speaking of production value and how it relates to wins above replacement, Holliday would need to reach the 1.6 WAR mark, considering in many circles of the industry that one win is worth approximately $8 million. Holliday's defense has dragged down his WAR value in recent seasons and being a measure that requires consistent playing time, his injuries in each of the last two seasons have hurt the figure. Playing as a DH for a majority of the 2017 season will pull back on WAR values as well, but if he manages the numbers above, he will come close to the 1.6 mark.
Holliday does provide another benefit to the club that cannot be measured by WAR. Part of the reasoning for my thoughts that Beltran was a good fit extended to his ability to mentor the younger players on the club. Holliday should bring the same quality to the clubhouse. He was a leader for the Cardinals over the last seven-plus seasons and I believe younger players will gravitate toward him once he becomes acclimated in New York.
The Yankees did not sign Holliday to make a splash or as the prime piece to put them in the conversation as a playoff-caliber club. His signing indicates the Yankees desired an experienced player with a good clubhouse demeanor who could prosper in a DH role for one season. They made the right choice by staying out of the high-priced DH market and with Beltran choosing to go elsewhere, Holliday makes sense as the next best option to plug a hole considering other facets of the club require more attention.
Expect the Yankees to continue to pursue closer Aroldis Chapman aggressively and maintain their pursuit of a starting pitcher to boost a suspect rotation. The Yankees might also be in line for a lefty set-up man to team to team with righties Dellin Betances and Tyler Clippard.