The Yankees did not make any big splashes during the off season, despite being urged to do so by a good portion of their fan base and the New York media. But they did make one move that now has the potential to drive them through the playoffs.
Yankees designated hitter, occasional first baseman, and bonafide team leader, Matt Holliday is a career .300 hitter with almost 7,000 at-bats in the major leagues. He counts among his credits appearances in seven All-Star games and the receiver of four Silver Slugger awards, mainly as an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals.
He is no slouch, and he carries with him the respect of every organization he’s been with throughout his fourteen seasons in the big leagues.
As a newcomer to the Yankees, he was signed by Brian Cashman to a one-year deal in December 2016 for $13 million. At the age of 37, it was assumed that Holliday’s days of playing in the field were all but over, but he would fit nicely into a role as the team’s DH, replacing the departed Alex Rodriguez.
Not totally unexpected and part of the gamble Cashman took when he made the move, Holliday has been limited to playing in only 92 games for the Yankees, losing a significant amount of time to a pesky, and for the most part, unexplained virus. But now, he’s back, and the Yankees took no time in rolling out the welcome “matt” when he returned to resume his leadership role on the team.
Aaron Judge, most noticeably, was seen in the Yankees clubhouse greeting Holliday with a warm bear hug, signaling that the close relationship between the two of them would no longer have to be transmitted with text messages.
And while you look at Holliday’s stats for this season, and you see a paltry .229 batting average and a not much better on base percentage of .323, you might be inclined to say, what’s the big deal with this guy?
The big deal is hidden in his penchant and ability to deliver big hits, usually a home run, as seen here when the team needs it most.
Holliday’s presence in Joe Girardi‘s lineup is not automatic, however, as Girardi finds himself needing to juggle the DH position.
The dilemma presented to Girardi means choosing between Gary Sanchez, who often is replaced by Austin Romine due to Sanchez’s defensive woes, and Chase Headley, who continues to carry a hot bat but has no position when Girardi pencils in Todd Frazier at third and Greg Bird at first.
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Nevertheless, it appears imperative, at least to me, that Girardi includes Holliday in his lineup, and especially during the playoffs.
Along with Brett Gardner and CC Sabathia on the pitching side, Holliday represents the inner core of this 2017 team. He’s not the rah-rah sis-boom-bah guy, serving as a cheerleader. Instead, he leads by example in much the same way Derek Jeter did during his playing day.
And, he has winner tattooed all over his face with experience gained from appearing in seven post seasons before coming to the Yankees. His eighth post season will come this year, and from all appearances, Holliday is looking forward to this one more than any other.
In a story I wrote back in January, Holliday showed his true colors when speaking to Newsday:
"“I don’t think anybody comes into a season not expecting to have a lot of success. Obviously, in this organization, the expectation is to win a championship. That’s how I prepare every day personally, and I expect everybody else will do the same.’’"
And it’s a funny thing because all the guys on the Yankees Baby Bombers team do do the same. For instance, when it looked like Clint Frazier was heading in the wrong direction, it was Holliday who very quietly brought Frazier back into line, essentially telling him to dump the deadbeats in his life. Holliday kept it simple as Frazier recalls, speaking to NJ.com:
"“It was just, keep your circle small. I had a lot of attention on myself and a lot of people were trying to get involved in my life. He was just saying, keep your circle small, make sure you know who’s there for you and who’s not.”"
So, when you put all of this together, Holliday becomes an indispensable, though often unheralded Yankee, both on and off the field. And the full measure of his value to the team in both areas has yet to be seen.
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