Big expectations for Holliday
Matt Holliday was traded from the Rockies to the A's this week
Holliday batted .321 with 25 HRs and 88 RBIs in 2008
He has made three All-Star teams and was runner-up for the 2007 NL MVP
Matt Holliday says he likes to keep things simple. Over the first 11 years of his professional career, that's certainly been the case. He spent them all within the Colorado Rockies organization, and was never saddled with being asked to carry an entire franchise on his back.
Starting now, that all changes. In acquiring Holliday in a trade finalized on Wednesday, the Oakland A's now have their most established hitter since Miguel Tejada left town five years ago, a three-time All-Star and career .319 hitter that the entire organization is banking on to jumpstart the worst offense in the American League, and with it, Oakland's hopes for contending again.
There's optimism that a reserved but steady slugger can help lift his new team into contention that likely needs a 20-win turnaround to do so.
There's the demand that a small-town Oklahoman can leave the comfy womb of the only organization he has even known and spearhead a team that has some of the highest roster turnaround in baseball.
For any ballplayer, that's a lot to ask.
"I don't want to wrap my thoughts around expectations or what people are watching for, what they're expecting," Holliday said Wednesday on a media conference call. "I'm here in California to train for the 2009 season, to work my tail off so that I can do the best that I can to help the A's win next year."
For a minute, forget the obvious fact that Holliday is leaving the best hitter's park in baseball for its worst. For now, just consider that never, at any point in his five-year major-league career, has Holliday been expected to shoulder as much of a burden as he will in Oakland. Yes, he's an established slugger who has averaged 30 home runs and 112 RBIs every season and was the key cog of the Rockies' run to the '07 World Series. But even the small-budget Rockies were able to surround him with other quality hitters like Garrett Atkins, Todd Helton and Troy Tulowitzki. He won't have any similar lineup protection in Oakland.
"I made it to the World Series with some of my best friends and guys I will continue to be close with the rest of my life," recalls Holliday when asked what he'll miss about Colorado. "Many times when you make that change, there's the element of the unknown. But I'm excited about the opportunity."
The truth is, while Holliday is an established big league star, he's facing a lot of unknowns. There is a new ballpark, a new league with different pitchers and, of course, new teammates, having left his tight-knit group behind for a rag-tag bunch he admits he knows little about. And although he'll get a little bit of assistance in the lineup from Eric Chavez, who should return after missing most of '08 with injuries, the onus to immediately improve the fortunes of an offense that batted an AL-worst .242 last season will fall mostly to Holliday.
What's more, in the world of the A's and Billy Beane, the window to impress is far shorter than with other teams. Holliday's contract is up after next season, which increases the likelihood that if the A's aren't in contention by the All-Star break, Beane could move Holliday for prospects.
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it," Beane said of that possibility. "I'm not Pollyannaish enough to think that you acquire one player and you go from 75 to 95 wins. This addresses some of our immediate needs and helps us continue what we're trying to do long-term, which is continue to acquire young players so we can take advantage of situations like this."
On the surface, the reason for optimism looks warranted. Holliday's numbers probably will suffer a bit outside of Coors Field, but he'll add loads of protection to a lineup that will get Chavez back, features promising, unheralded young hitters like Ryan Sweeney and Travis Buck, and still could see additions before spring training.
But for a middling team in the AL West, pushing for the postseason is harder than ever. The A's likely will be chasing the Los Angeles Angels yet again, and odds say the wild card again will come from the uber-competitive AL East. That's where Holliday comes in. The expectations start -- and end -- with him.
"Sometimes when you try to take on too much expectation and weight on your own shoulders, it's more of a negative than a positive," he said. "I'll try to be a leader by work ethic and doing things on the field in a positive manner and then go home and be a husband and father."
Come next July, he may be longing for the simple life again.