A scant three weeks before Christmas, the New York Yankees signed Matt Holliday for one year and $13 million, per Jon Heyman of Today’s Knuckleball. 

I will spare you the painfully obvious holiday/Holliday puns.

It’s a solid move for the Yanks, who are in the midst of a youth movement but also seeking to win now.

New York whiffed on outfielder/designated hitter Carlos Beltran when he signed with the Houston Astros for one year and $16 million on Saturday.

The Yankees dealt Beltran to the Texas Rangers at the 2016 trade deadline, but according to Heyman, they were interested in bringing the veteran switch-hitter back. 

Now, they have his ostensible replacementa veteran bat with bona fide big-game credentials.

The Yankees’ emphasis is on shedding costly flotsam and adding cost-controlled depth. In addition to Beltran, they moved ace relievers Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller at the deadline and restocked a farm system that’s now No. 1 in the game, per Bleacher Report’s Joel Reuter.

At the same time, they’ve got an unspoken mandate to stay competitive and dance back onto the October stage as quickly as possible. 

Holliday doesn’t guarantee that will happen. He posted a less than stellar .246/.322/.461 slash line last season for the St. Louis Cardinals in 110 games. Injuries limited him to just 73 games in 2015.

On the other hand, he’s a seven-time All-Star who won a ring in 2011 and has 302 playoff plate appearances to his name. The 20 home runs he cracked in 2016 suggest there’s pop residing in his bat. 

He can play the outfield and may see time there if New York trades Brett Gardner. His defense, however, has taken a serious dive.

At this point, he projects best at DH or first base, where he got nine starts last season. That meets the Yankees’ needs, especially with first baseman Greg Bird coming off major shoulder surgery.

Getting reps at DH and playing the bulk of his games in the hitter-happy American League East could give Holliday a late-career bump.

He also won’t cost New York a draft pick since St. Louis didn’t offer him arbitration.

“Our preference is to retain a draft pick if we can,” general manager Brian Cashman said, per George A. King III and Dan Martin of the New York Post. “We have a certain amount of money we want to allocate to allow us to do a number of different things.”

One of those things could be closer Aroldis Chapman, whom the Yankees acquired last December and dealt to the Chicago Cubs at the deadline.

“I would love to be a Yankee again,” Chapman told NY Sports Day’s Ray Negron in November. 

Chapman could command a deal in the vicinity of nine figures, which makes Holliday a more prudent signing than, say, Edwin Encarnacion.

The Yankees were “well-positioned to make a play” for Encarnacion, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Now, with Holliday in the fold, they may pass on the 33-year-old slugger, who came with draft-pick compensation and an unavoidable jolt of sticker shock.

Ditching long-term monetary commitments aligns with a grander vision, as ESPN.com’s Andrew Marchand spelled out:

Will [Holliday] be good in 2017? Who knows? Will the Yankees be good in 2017? No one knows that, either. But if Holliday is solid, it could be a big lift for this bridge year as the Yankees try to reload and rebuild toward 2019, which is when the Yankees’ next “uber” (trademark, Brian Cashman) team might be ready to add Bryce Harper and/or Manny Machado and others.

Getting back to the here and now with Holliday, there are reasons for optimism that go beyond the DH and AL East. There were hints of bad luck in his 2016 stat line, per ESPN The Magazine‘s Buster Olney:

New York has work to do. It needs to add arms to a rotation that features Masahiro Tanaka and a heap of question marks. It needs to go hard after Chapman or explore other avenues to give Dellin Betances company in the late innings.

Holliday, though, can be the cherry on top of a sundae that includes catcher and AL Rookie of the Year runner-up Gary Sanchez, 24-year-old masher Aaron Judge and a host of MiLB up-and-comers. 

Whether the Yankees can win the division depends on what further moves they make and what becomes of their competition. The Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles all made the playoffs in 2016 and are looking to improve.

But, at the risk of straining the Holliday/holiday comparison, the Yanks just opened a nicely wrapped package—and checked an item off their wish list.


All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. 

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