ST. LOUIS— The St. Louis Cardinals persuaded another star player to stick around. This time it was really expensive and took a little longer than anticipated.
Matt Holliday agreed Tuesday to a $120 million, seven-year contract that is baseball’s richest deal of the offseason and the biggest in franchise history. Just like Mark McGwire, Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen before him, the power-hitting outfielder arrived in a trade and decided St. Louis was the best place for him.
The Cardinals announced Tuesday they had agreed with Holliday on a multiyear contract subject to a physical. General manager John Mozeliak said in a text message to The Associated Press that he planned to address the media Thursday once Holliday passes the physical.
His agreement includes $119 million guaranteed over seven seasons plus a $17 million vesting option for 2017 with a $1 million buyout, a person familiar with the deal told the AP. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the team didn’t reveal the length of the contract or financial details.
Holliday, who had been the biggest prize in free agency this winter, confirmed he was returning in an interview on ESPN Radio.
“I’m going back to the Cardinals,” he said. “I’m excited about it.”
St. Louis acquired Holliday from Oakland in July and he helped lead the Cardinals to their first NL Central title since 2006. They sent several top prospects to the Athletics and justified that expense by retaining a player who hit .353 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs in 63 games for St. Louis, which took control of the division race with a 32-11 record after the trade.
“I felt like I wanted to kind of see what’s out there and kind of look around and maybe see what other teams are all about,” said Holliday, an Oklahoma native. “At the end of the day, playing in St. Louis and playing with the guys I made friends with became something that was very appealing to me.”
A three-time All-Star, Holliday was a perfect fit batting cleanup behind star slugger Albert Pujols, though he was the goat in a first-round playoff sweep by the Los Angeles Dodgers after dropping a sinking liner to left field that would have been the final out of Game 2.
Holliday, who turns 30 on Jan. 15, batted .313 overall with 24 homers and 109 RBIs, his fifth .300 season and third 100-RBI year.
“Obviously, with Albert Pujols on the team you have a great opportunity to have a great team,” Holliday told ESPN. “Albert is the best player in the history of baseball in my mind. Hopefully between the two of us we can help do our part to win a World Series.”
“That’s pretty good, pretty exciting,” Lohse told the AP in a telephone interview. “I’ve been around long enough not to pay too much attention until something gets done, but I know he liked it here and I’m sure he’s really happy things worked out.”
Holliday’s agreement is much bigger than the other two big free-agent deals of the offseason: pitcher John Lackey’s $82.5 million, five-year contract with Boston and outfielder Jason Bay’s $66 million, four-year contract with the New York Mets, which was finalized earlier Tuesday.
“When you’re a little kid growing up hoping to be a professional baseball player and hoping to play in the major leagues, I don’t think you ever think about the money,” Holliday said. “Now that you look at it, it’s a little overwhelming.”
Holliday’s contract contains a full no-trade clause and deferred money that lowers its annual present-day value to about $16 million.
It also likely sets a floor for negotiations between the Cardinals and Pujols, who is entering the final guaranteed season of a $100 million, seven-year contract. St. Louis holds a $16 million option for 2011 on the three-time NL MVP.
St. Louis becomes only the third team with a pair of $100 million players, joining the New York Yankees (Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and CC Sabathia) and the New York Mets (Johan Santana and Carlos Beltran).
The Cardinals have long considered themselves a mid-market franchise and had a payroll under $100 million last season, but this deal might be a signal the franchise is willing to spend more. The Cardinals have three players making over $10 million per season, including NL Cy Young Award runner-up Chris Carpenter ($13 million).
Holliday said he was happy to have things settled after negotiations that went on for months.
“This has been a bit of a long process and there were some emotional ups and downs that go with it,” he said. “It hasn’t exactly been a walk in the park. It’s relief.”