St. Louis Cardinals

Have we seen the last of Matt Holliday?

Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter visit outside the batting cage at Busch Stadium in 2016.
Matt Holliday and Matt Carpenter visit outside the batting cage at Busch Stadium in 2016.

If Matt Holliday is really out just 15 days with his broken thumb, it means he’ll be healed, rehabbed and back in the lineup Aug. 27, a Saturday interleague game with the Oakland A’s.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ left fielder is expected to have the hand re-examined early this week and will make a decision in conjunction with the club about the appropriate course of treatment.

But we already know how thumbs and baseball work, right?

Remember when David Wells hit J.D. Drew in the hand with a pitch in 2001? It was seven weeks before he even began his rehab assignment. Atlanta’s 23-year-old rookie, Mallex Smith, this season took a pitch to the digits June 19 and still hasn’t returned to the lineup.

So here’s the question: Have we seen the last of Matt Holliday wearing the Birds on the Bat?

The Cardinals can bring Holliday back next season if they exercise a $17-million option on his current contract. Or they could pay him $1 million and make him a free agent.

I’ve always thought Holliday has been sadly underappreciated by St. Louis fans, who still chafe at the mention of that fly ball he lost in the low Dodger Stadium lights during the 2009 NLCS.

But over the course of a 13-year career — he’s in his eighth season with the Cardinals — he’s averaged a .303 average with 27 home runs and 105 RBIs per 162 games.

And contrary to popular — but altogether bizarre — belief, he’s been a monster in the clutch. Baseballreference.com breaks it down in dozens of different ways, but in 138 career at-bats with the bases loaded, Holliday has hit .399 and driven home 143 runs. With two outs and the bases loaded, he’s hit .400.

He’s earned his place in Cardinals’ lore and, eventually, a spot in the organization’s Hall of Fame.

But you can’t ignore his decline over the last two seasons.

When Chicago Cubs reliever Mike Montgomery hit him with a pitch in the 10th inning of the opener of a four-game series Thursday at Wrigley Field, Holliday was batting just .242. His 19 home runs through 107 games look good on the surface, but his slugging percentage and OPS are among the lowest figures of his career.

Despite manager Mike Matheny’s loyalty to Holliday, he’s not the same middle-of-the-lineup hitter that was brought here in 2009 as protection for Albert Pujols.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are in transition.

Their farm system has produced a new “core” that consists of Matt Carpenter, Aledmys Diaz and Stephen Piscotty. Randall Grichuk, despite a shaky season, is going to get every chance to earn his way into that group because he just turned 25 and will earn the league minimum the next two years.

So where does Holliday fit that brings $17 million in value?

It could be first base, where he’d be a one-year stop gap to a more permanent solution. It’s more likely, though, that the Cardinals will attempt to bring back 32-year-old Brandon Moss, a clubhouse favorite who leads the team with 21 home runs despite playing in just 88 games.

Moss will get a raise over his current $8.25 million, but certainly nothing close to $17 million. It just may take a three-year commitment to get him signed.

For all Holliday has done for the organization — he was at the core for two pennants and a World Series championship — it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Cardinals rewarded him with a $17 million farewell tour.

But what if it means blocking the advancement of younger players or hamstringing the payroll?

Then our last hope of seeing Holliday tip his Cardinal-red cap to a Busch Stadium throng will be a fast-mending thumb.

Sports Editor Todd Eschman: 618-239-2540, @tceschman

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