Cards add big stick

Saturday, July 25, 2009
FILE -- This is a June 4, 2009 file photo showing Oakland Athletics' Matt Holliday greeted in the dugout after scoring on a sacrifice fly by Kurt Suzuki during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the Chicago White Sox, in Chicago. A person with knowledge of the deal says the Oakland Athletics have completed a trade to send outfielder Matt Holliday to the St. Louis Cardinals. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity Friday July 24, 2009, because an announcement had yet to be made.(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

By ROB MAADDI

The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA -- Matt Holliday wanted to join his new team quickly, so he hopped on a train with his wife and two sons and got to the ballpark in plenty of time.

Holliday was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals from the Oakland Athletics on Friday for a package of prospects. The three-time All-Star outfielder gives the Cardinals a big bat for their pennant drive and provides protection in the lineup for slugger Albert Pujols.

Holliday was in New York for Oakland's series against the Yankees when he learned about the deal. To avoid getting stuck in traffic, he chose public transportation over a car ride down congested I-95.

New Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday singles in his first at-bat with the team during the second inning Friday against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Holliday had four hits in his Cardinals debut. (Tom Mihalek ~ Associated Press)

"Getting from New York to Philly on a Friday afternoon can be tough," Holliday said. "I'm extremely excited to be back in the National League, to be back in a pennant race. This is a great team, a great organization."

Holliday made it to Citizens Bank Park early enough for manager Tony La Russa to pencil him into the lineup in left field and bat him cleanup behind Pujols for Friday night's game against the World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.

"It's a heck of a move for our club," La Russa said. "There are guys who are going to lose at-bats, but they're excited because he improves our club. We'll be tough to pitch to."

Holliday's presence will make opponents think twice about pitching around Pujols, who has been intentionally walked 34 times.

"You look at the lineup card and it's exciting," said outfielder Ryan Ludwick, who moves down to the No. 5 spot from cleanup. "You take a hitter like him and it's instant offense."

St. Louis Cardinals' Matt Holliday waits for his turn during batting practice prior to the start of a baseball game with the Philadelphia Phillies, Friday, July 24, 2009, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)

The NL Central-leading Cardinals had a 1 1/2-game lead over the Chicago Cubs and Houston entering Friday's games. They already added utilityman Mark DeRosa from the Cleveland Indians late last month and then shortstop Julio Lugo in a Wednesday swap with the Boston Red Sox.

"Matt is an impact player who gives us an instant added threat in the middle of our lineup," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "These types of opportunities are rare. The price to complete this deal was steep, but our organization feels that it should greatly improve our chances to compete for a postseason berth."

The A's receive power-hitting third baseman Brett Wallace, a top offensive player in the St. Louis farm system. Outfielder Shane Peterson and right-hander Clayton Mortensen also will come to the Oakland organization.

Holliday could be an expensive short-term rental for St. Louis because he can become a free agent after the season. He's earning $13.5 million in the final year of a contract he signed after helping lead the Colorado Rockies to the World Series in 2007.

"I'm pretty sure I'm excited to be a St. Louis Cardinal and pretty excited to hit," Holliday said, ducking a question about testing the free-agent market.

Holliday struggled in his only season with the A's, batting .286 with 11 home runs and 54 RBIs. Oakland traded for Holliday during the winter, knowing he might only be with the club for half a season.

"We knew there were going to be a lot of options," A's general manager Billy Beane said in a conference call. "We're happy we traded for Matt. We had to be prepared for anything."

The 29-year-old Holliday had his best game for Oakland at home Monday, hitting two home runs with a grand slam as the A's rallied from 10 runs down to beat the Minnesota Twins 14-13.

Many scouts attended recent games in Oakland to watch Holliday, who spent his first five major league seasons with the Rockies.

"I wouldn't say it's surprising," said Oakland's Mark Ellis, who learned about the trade when Holliday stopped by his hotel room Friday morning. "It's disappointing. Maybe if we would have played better we would have hung onto him."

The teams began discussions about a month ago, and things picked back up this week. Most of the work was finished Thursday night, Beane said, with final details completed Friday.

"They were definitely the most motivated," Beane said.

Wallace could provide the A's some depth at third base in the absence of six-time Gold Glove winner Eric Chavez, who is recovering from season-ending back surgery. The A's are optimistic Chavez will be ready by spring training 2010.

"We're all hopeful Eric's our third baseman next year," Beane said. "Obviously long term it's probably one area in the organization we have a need. We're going to keep [Wallace] over there, be patient with him and see how it goes."

Wallace, who Oakland has liked since he was a freshman at Arizona State, moved quickly through the Cardinals farm system and was considered their top offensive prospect. The 13th overall draft pick last year, he was already at Class AAA Memphis.

The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Wallace, a left-handed hitter born in the Bay Area, was batting .293 with six homers, 19 RBIs and 11 doubles in 62 games for Memphis after starting the year in Class AA. He played in the All-Star Futures Game in St. Louis earlier this month and was set to meet up with Oakland's Class AAA Sacramento affiliate in Colorado Springs.

Wallace attended his share of games at the Coliseum growing up and thought the A's might draft him last year.

"It's definitely kind of a homecoming for me," said Wallace, whose favorite player was Chavez. "My whole family lives in Sonoma. They were definitely excited, I think just a little shocked."

The Cardinals have been without third baseman Troy Glaus, who had shoulder surgery in January.

"We got three players that we've always kind of liked," A's manager Bob Geren said. "Happy about the trade, happy for Matt, too. Matt's going to go over to St. Louis and be right in the middle of a pennant race. It's a good deal for everybody."

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