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The news on Matt Holliday and Randy Johnson

So this winter's "Big Three" free agents are off the board, now that Matt Holliday has returned to the Cardinals, and it will surely shock many that the Yankees barely sniffed on Holliday, Jason Bay and John Lackey.

But take a step back, and look at what the Yankees have done over the past five offseasons, the amount of time since Brian Cashman became the team's bona fide general manager:

1) A year ago, at Cashman's direction, they behaved like the Yankees of old, committing $423.5 million to A.J. Burnett, CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. What drove such spending? The Yankees had roughly $100 million coming off the books, they were opening  a new stadium, they had just missed the playoffs and they really liked that trio.

2) Two years ago, they committed $388.4 million to bring back Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and Alex Rodriguez. This spending spree came at the urging of Hal and Hank Steinbrenner, who had just officially replaced their father atop the organization and who were reeling from the ugly divorce with Joe Torre.

3) Three years ago, four years ago and this winter, they behaved in a mostly rational fashion, making "baseball" moves as opposed to "bludgeoning our rivals with our money bags" moves. As a matter of fact, this offseason and in the '06-07 winter, Cashman has received criticism for thriftiness. Cashman did sign Johnny Damon in December of '05, but that came after Damon lowered his asking price from seven years to four years.

It's just silly, at this point, to assume that the Yankees are going to be all over every big name. They no longer operate like that.

Some big names? Of course. Cashman has all but announced that he's salivating over next year's free-agent crop. I'm sure the few loyal Rays fans are already planning to see Carl Crawford play at Steinbrenner Field in spring training of 2011.

But to think that they're going to sign Albert Pujols to be their designated hitter in two years, as has been hitting the yakosphere (copyright Neil Best) lately, is the height of foolishness - not only from the Yankees' standpoint, but from Pujols'. Why would he become a DH?

--So the Cardinals are paying Holliday 82 percent more than the Mets are paying Bay. Is the gap between the two actually that significant?

Well, in 2009, Bay tallied 3.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), while Holliday picked up 5.8, a 60-percent upgrade. In 2008, Bay put up a 2.9 WAR, and Holliday a 6.3, a 117-percent improvement.

Holliday's CHONE projection for 2010 is a 4.8 WAR. Bay? 4.0, meaning Holliday would be worth just 20 percent more.

Answer to the original question: Maybe. But probably not. Given the players' prices, I think the Mets did all right for themselves.

--About that Holliday price...Good Lord, is Scott Boras good. I remember speaking with a high-ranking official from a team not involved in the Holliday bidding, and this person predicted that Holliday wouldn't break the $100 million mark.

But Boras, despite not having a serious second bidder, once again used the clock to his advantage. And he understood that, in a unique dynamic - Boras always capitalizes on the unique dynamics - the Cardinals badly needed to retain Holliday not only to field a competitive team, but also to convince Pujols that they are serious about staying competitive so that Pujols will stick around past 2011 (when St. Louis has a team option on him).

Given the Cardinals' history, and given Pujols' personality, I do think this marriage will remain intact.

Of course, as Keith Law already has noted, having huge commitments to Holliday and Pujols will handcuff the Cardinals down the road. They're going to have to rebuild the farm system that they largely blew up in order to acquire Hollidayi and Mark DeRosa last year.

--In a non-shocker, Randy Johnson announced his retirement last night. It should go without saying that Johnson is one of the best left-handers in baseball history.

What I always found equally interesting about Johnson was the human side of his story. Just how uncomfortable he was being in the spotlight, and yes, how awkward he could be even with his own teammates. And how many different stops he made in his career, despite being so great - he clearly grew unhappy in Seattle and Arizona, and never was happy with the Yankees in the first place.

In the right setting, though, Johnson could be engaging. He loved the BBWAA New York chapter dinner, and always attended it when he won the Cy Young Award, purchasing a full table for his family.

And last year, as I mentioned at the time, I covered Johnson's 300th win. The setting - a near-empty Nationals Park, in the rain - felt perfect for Johnson, who didn't yearn for the big stage. And afterwards, when I congratulated him, he spoke with a smile about his career, even expressing appreciation for the two years with the Yankees - which, I always stress, were nowhere as bad as perceived.

In any case, five years from now, Johnson will have to return to the big stage when it's time for his Cooperstown induction.

--Speaking of which, I'll check in later when the Hall of Fame results are announced.


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