Let me preface this by saying I am a fan of Matt Holliday. He did some great things during his five seasons in Colorado, and without him the Rockies’ run to the World Series 2007 would never have happened.
That said, bringing him back to play first base in 2017 for a team that expects to contend would be a big mistake.
First, Holliday is not really a first baseman. To sign him to be a first baseman would be asking someone who has played just 10 games at first base in his 13-year big league career to do the job. Just up and moving to first base more than a decade into your career is not easy. In fact, as Ron Washington told us in Moneyball, it’s incredibly hard.
Holliday’s age and health are also concerns. He’s not a young man anymore; he turns 37 in January. He also has not played more than 110 games since 2014, so relying on him to play every day, regardless of position, would be foolhardy.
In part because of his inability to stay on the field, Holliday’s numbers have been in a steady decline over the last several seasons. From 2006-2013, Holliday had a wRC+ of 139 or better in every season. But since 2013, it has declined every year, down to 109 in 2016.
Combine the declining offensive numbers with Holliday’s declining playing time, and you get a player that is, well, in rapid decline.
In fact, Holliday’s 2016 season seems to signal a change in his approach at the plate in an effort to get back some of the power that age has sapped from him. His .215 ISO and 17.9 percent HR/FB rates were his highest since 2011, but that came with his lowest walk rate since 2006 and the lowest line drive rate and BABIP of his career. Any one or two of those changes could be down to randomness, but together they add up to Holliday sacrificing on base percentage for slugging, an approach that is generally unwise.
There have been references to Vinny Castilla’s return to Colorado in 2004 as an argument to why bringing back Holliday would work. And yes, Castilla did have a good season in 2004, hitting .271/.332/.535 with 43 home runs, but he was actually a year younger than Holliday will be in 2017.
Also, the Rockies are in a different place than they were in 2004, which marked the start of a rebuild. The so-called “Todd and the Toddlers” era that culminated with the 2007 World Series appearance used an aging former star like Castilla to keep the seat warm at third base for Garrett Atkins. In contrast, the 2017 Rockies expect to contend and need someone more reliably productive than Holliday at first base.
Bringing back Holliday to play the Ryan Raburn role would, on the other hand, be a good move. But with experts projecting him to get a contract in the range of $10 million, and with the inconvenient presence of Gerardo Parra, that does not seem feasible.
The options for the Rockies to fill their hole at first base this offseason seem to be either expensive or subpar, and unfortunately for Holliday, he may be both.