With Kendrys Morales having departed for Toronto, the Royals have a void at designated hitter. The team has discussed rotation the position among regulars to rest them, but that option would almost certainly downgrade the offense. If the club is willing to spend money, however, the market is saturated with many designated hitter options. One of the better fits on the market may be Matt Holliday.
Holliday, who turns 37 in January, has had an illustrious career with the Rockies, Athletics, and Cardinals. He is a lifetime .303/.382/.515 hitter with 295 career home runs in 13 seasons. The seven-time All-Star is perennial threat for 20-25 home runs, and has a career walk rate of 9.9%. Last year was the tenth time in his career he has reached the 20-home run mark.
The Oklahoma native has seen his OPS decline in each of the last four seasons, and has missed significant portions of each of the last two seasons. The right-handed hitter suffered a quad strain in 2015 that limited him to just 73 games with a career-low four home runs. He bounced back to play 110 games last year, but missed six weeks with a broken thumb. He had a career low in batting average and OPS, but his line of .246/.322/.461 was still 7% better than league-average, according to OPS+.
Holliday’s poor batting average could be explained by an unusually low batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .253. Last July, Eno Sarris at Fangraphs noted that based on his exit velocity and angle, Holliday should be expected to hit for a much higher average. He did hit better after that point, although he was limited to just 97 plate appearances in the second half due to his thumb injury.
At Fangraphs, Jeff Zimmerman noted Holliday’s significant decline in contact rate and pull rate in 2015 and identified him as someone who could potentially be in decline. However, his contact rate and pull rate improved significantly last year, and he posted his best ISO and home run-to-flyball rate since 2011. Most likely his decline in 2015 was due to his quad injury.
Still capable of playing outfield, Holliday may be more attractive than other designated hitter options who are more defensively-limited. Holliday is a well-below average defender in left field, but could probably fill in on occasion to give Gordon a rest against tough lefties. Holliday, however, has no experience in right field and has only played a handful of games at first base.
Holliday is noted as a terrific teammate and clubhouse leader. With his age and recent injury past, he would likely take a one- or two-year contract worth around $10-12 million per year. The Yankees are already said to be interested, and Holliday will draw interest from other American League clubs looking for a veteran bat, and perhaps even a few National League clubs as well. If the Royals increase payroll to make one more run at a championship in 2017, a contract for Holliday should be very doable. However, if they truly are cutting back on payroll, it seems unlikely they could fit his salary into their budget.