|The Cardinals, who already have the game’s best hitter in Albert Pujols, sought to gain an edge on their National League Central rivals by dealing for left fielder Matt Holliday, in all likelihood the best bat available on the trade market. St. Louis sent three prospects to Oakland: third baseman Brett Wallace—a 2008 first-round pick—righthander Clayton Mortensen and corner outfielder Shane Peterson. The Athletics kicked in about $1.5 million to help offset Holliday’s remaining salary, valued at about $4.5 million.
The top four teams in the NL Central entered play on July 24 separated by a mere 2 1/2 games. In fact, the standings were so bunched that the last-place Pirates sat only 8 1/2 games out of first, the smallest difference from first to last place team in any of the six divisions.
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|The A’s passed on Wallace, 22, in last year’s draft to take Miami second baseman Jemile Weeks with the 12th overall pick. St. Louis selected Wallace one pick later. With a thick 6-foot-1, 245-pound frame, Wallace looks the part of a first baseman, though the Cardinals have played him almost exclusively at third base since signing him for $1.84 million, in part because of the presence of Pujols in St. Louis. Wallace is below-average defensively at the hot corner, but he’s free to move back to first—if not to DH—as a member of the A’s organization.
No one has questioned Wallace’s lefty bat. While at Arizona State, he won back-to-back Pacific-10 Conference triple crowns in his sophomore and junior years, and he has batted .306 through 148 pro games. He began the season with Double-A Springfield, batting .281/.403/.438 in 128 at-bats and earning a promotion to Triple-A Memphis. During his stint with the Redbirds, he hit .293/.346/.423 and earned a trip to the Futures Game in St. Louis. On the year, Wallace, in his first full season of pro ball, has batted .289/.368/.429 with 11 homers and 35 RBIs in 350 at-bats.
Mortensen, a supplemental first-rounder out of Gonzaga in 2007, ranked as the Cardinals’ No. 6 prospect entering the year. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound righthander throws mainly a 90-93 mph sinker and a slider. While walks have been an issue with him in the past, he walked just 34 over 105 innings in Triple-A this season, while striking out 82. He combines a solid strikeout rate with a high ratio of groundouts to airouts—1.83 through his 17 starts in the Pacific Coast League. Mortensen, 24, made his big league debut in a spot start with the Cardinals on June 29, giving up six runs (two earned) on five hits over three innings with two strikeouts and a walk.
A second-round pick last year out of Long Beach State, Peterson has advanced to Double-A in his first full season. The 21-year-old lefthanded hitter was batting .284/.338/.405 through 74 at-bats with Springfield, though he projects to have enough bat to hold down a big league corner in the future. The 6-foot, 200-pounder batted .291/.400/.409 for short-season Batavia after signing for $683,000 last summer. A front-foot hitter, he features plus bat speed and loft power, though he’s a below-average runner and fringy defender. In 359 at-bats this season, spent mostly in high Class A, Peterson has batted .295/.361/.423 with seven home runs, 15 doubles, five triples and 12 stolen bases in 13 attempts.
|Holliday, 29, had shaken off a slow start with the A’s to finish .286/.378/.454 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs in 93 games for the franchise. After a tough month of April, he came alive in his 320 plate appearances after May 1, batting .299/.400/.480 with 10 homers. It’s the type of production that demonstrates Holliday’s potential as an impact hitter and slugger. An efficient, but not exactly graceful defender, he’s a smart and efficient baserunner who has stolen 12 bases in 15 tries this season and 78 in 98 career attempts (80 percent).
St. Louis’ offense already ranked sixth in the NL in runs, so considering that Holliday replaces a pair of unproductive outfielders in Rick Ankiel and Chris Duncan, the Cardinals figure to benefit significantly on the offensive side. A Scott Boras client in his walk year, Holliday will certainly qualify for Type A free agent compensation when he tests those waters this winter.
Not only did the A’s receive nearly four full months of service from Holliday, whom they acquired from the Rockies last November, but in trading him to St. Louis (along with $1.5 million), they received arguably a greater return than what they paid the Rockies last year. Landing Wallace alone could provide more value to Oakland than the combination of Huston Street, Carlos Gonzalez and Greg Smith ever will to the Rockies.