Left fielder Matt Holliday’s present and future with the St. Louis Cardinals became clearer Friday afternoon.
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said Holliday, 36, had been activated for the regular season-ending series against the Pittsburgh Pirates and added that the chances were “low” that the team would exercise its $17 million option on Holliday for 2017.
Mozeliak said activating Holliday, who hadn’t played since Aug. 11 because of a broken right thumb, would give fans an opportunity to give him a send-off this weekend.
The Cardinals said they would look for an opportunity to use Holliday as a pinch-hitter, and they didn’t have to wait long.
Batting for Carlos Martinez to start the seventh inning, Holliday lined a home run over the right-field wall on an 0-2 pitch from left-hand Zach Phillips in the Cardinals’ 7-0 win.
It was Holliday’s first career pinch-hit home run and his first career RBI as a pinch-hitter. It also boosted the Cardinals’ major-league record for pinch-hit homers in a season to 17.
Holliday has 20 home runs, giving the Cardinals six players with at least 20, which ties a National League record.
Holliday asked the Cardinals this week about their interest in retaining him beyond this season.
“Matt had reached out to me earlier in the week, asking me to have an understanding on what we’re going to do with his option, and I told him the probability of us picking it up is probably low,” Mozeliak said.
Mozeliak said Holliday on Friday confirmed that he would enjoy the opportunity to perhaps play this weekend, even though the thumb remains sore.
It was not clear what situation would fit for using Holliday. The only realistic role was as a pinch-hitter, but the Cardinals are in must-win situation as they cling to playoff hopes.
But with the Cardinals ahead 5-0 and Martinez over 100 pitches, the opportunity was there.
“In terms of when we use him, time will tell,” Mozeliak said before the game. “But he is just grateful for being a part of the Cardinals over these last 7 1/2 years, and he also wants to express his thank-you to the fans, to Mike (Matheny), to Tony (La Russa), to Mr. (Bill) DeWitt and other investors.”
Holliday did not speak with reporters before the game but issued the following statement:
“I would like to thank Mr. DeWitt, Mo (Mozeliak) and the entire ownership group for the opportunity to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“I am proud of what we have accomplished on and off the field during the past seven years. I have also been humbled by the incredible support and participation in our Homers for Health program.
“It has been an honor to play in front of such great fans and for such a historic organization. I can honestly say it has been a dream come true.
“While I’m disappointed this could be it here in St. Louis, I understand that it might be time to move on.
“I’d like to express my love and admiration for Tony, Mike and all of the coaches and staff that I have had the pleasure to do life with these past seven-plus years.
“The most emotional part of this is my teammates and the relationships I’ve built with some of these guys over the years. Particularly, Adam (Wainwright) and Yadi (Molina), to be considered part of the core with two of the finest human beings I’ve ever known.
“Finally, I’m eternally thankful for the Lord bringing me to the city of St. Louis in August of 2009. Lots of cool stuff has happened since then. On behalf of my wife Leslee and our children Jackson, Ethan, Gracyn and Reed, thank you!”
Holliday is batting .242 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs in 107 games. He was traded to the Cardinals in 2009, and in the offseason signed a seven-year, $120 million contract. The deal included a team option for 2017, which the Cardinals will likely buy out for $1 million.
Holliday has batted .292 with 155 homers and 614 RBIs in 979 games with the Cardinals. He was a National League All-Star in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015.
“It’s been 7 1/2 years and they’ve been great years,” Mozeliak said. “Matt’s been an amazing teammate. We’ve had a lot of success with him being a key member of that.”
Mozeliak didn’t completely rule out bringing Holliday back at a lesser salary, but didn’t seem optimistic about that being a realistic scenario.
“In terms of speaking in absolute or saying there’s no chance of him coming back, I’m not prepared to do that,” Mozeliak said. “We haven’t had our offseason meetings. We certainly have an understanding of what we think the club’s going to look like or what we want to see happen, but those kinds of conversations are always done when the season ends and we start to focus on next year.
“We still have three games, very important games, and no one wants to be a distraction on that. Our focus should be on winning tonight.”
Matheny said Holliday has been “a pillar in this organization for a good amount of time now.”
“Not knowing how this thing plays out through the winter, we’re trying to give him the respect that he deserves,” Matheny said. “It’s a tough conversation for him; it was a tough conversation for all of us. I don’t know how it will play out. Matt gets that, too. ... But I don’t think throwing him up there is a stretch because he’s one of the best bats we’ve had in a while.”
Matheny’s sense is that Holliday still wants to play.
“He’s a thinker,” Matheny said. “I know he’s going to lean on his faith and his family to make a decision that he believes is going to be best for their future.”
Holliday’s season essentially ended Aug. 11 at Wrigley Field in Chicago when he was hit by an up-and-in pitch from Mike Montgomery. Holliday in recent weeks has been attempting a comeback, but soreness in the thumb has curtailed progress.
“It stinks,” Mozeliak said. “The unfortunate part of baseball, or sports, are injuries. In his case, he literally got a bad break, no pun intended. I feel bad about that. But also, when you sit in my seat, it can’t solely be on relationships and the short view. I have to think about this long-term and what we think is best for this organization and how we think we can be stronger and how we can get stronger. It’s unfortunate, but nothing ever lasts forever, especially in sports.”
Cardinals 7, Pirates 0
Matt Holliday, playing his first game since Aug. 11, hit a home run and Jedd Gyorko and Brandon Moss also went deep to support seven shutout innings by Carlos Martinez (16-9) as St. Louis romped past Pittsburgh in the opener of a three-game series.
By the numbers
Holliday’s home run in the seventh was the first of his career as a pinch-hitter. It also was his first career RBI as a pinch-hitter. ... The Cardinals added to their major-league record with 17 pinch-hit home runs. ... Moss’ two-run homer in the sixth broke a 7-for-97 skid. ... Gyorko’s homer in the third made it 1-0. ... The game was delayed by rain for 47 minutes in the eighth inning. ... Martinez allowed five hits, walked one and struck out nine.
Michael Wacha (7-7, 4.93 ERA) vs. Chad Kuhl (5-4, 4.25 ERA), 12:05 p.m. Saturday