The St. Louis Cardinals and Oakland Athletics have been talking about a possible swap of All-Star outfielder Matt Holliday and top prospect Brett Wallace, according to sources, and one person familiar with the talks places the odds of a deal at 50-50.
Holliday, 29, is eligible for free agency after this season, and has had a lackluster season overall with the Athletics, hitting .287 with 11 homers and 54 RBIs.
But he has hit well this month, batting .344 with a .421 on-base percentage, and one scout who has seen him play said Tuesday that Holliday is swinging the bat as well now as he has all year. The Cardinals have been searching for a way to upgrade their offense to build some lineup protection for first baseman Albert Pujols.
Earlier this season, St. Louis had indicated to other teams that it did not have a lot of money to spend, but it's possible that the Cardinals' front office could navigate that issue by getting approval from ownership, or by having Oakland kick in some money to offset the money still owed to Holliday, which is about $6 million.
Oakland acquired Holliday in a trade with Colorado last fall, in the hope that he would be the anchor to the Athletics' offense. But Holliday -- and the whole Oakland offense -- has struggled for much of this year, and rival general managers have wondered if the shift in baseball's economics might compel the Athletics to move Holliday.
Holliday is earning $13.5 million in salary this season, and in order for Oakland to recoup draft picks, it would have to offer him arbitration. Holliday could be in line for an award of $16 million, something that might be more difficult for the small-market Athletics to absorb. The Yankees, after all, declined to offer Bobby Abreu arbitration last fall because they feared that he might accept it.
If the Athletics kick money into a Holliday trade to offset his salary, then they would be in better position to ask for a quality prospect. Wallace, 22, is a former first-round pick who is hitting .292 in the minors this year, with a .372 on-base percentage.
Oakland is stacked with young pitching, but has a need for infielders. The Cardinals have known for many weeks that any trade for Holliday would have to include Wallace.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.