During the offseason, I argued here that the Orioles should have pursued Matt Holliday strongly as a free agent. This suggestion seemed somewhat counterintuitive - the O's appeared set in left field with cheap young players with upside in Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie, and our concerns were our corner infield positions. The Orioles did not appear to make more than a token attempt to sign Holliday, who resigned with the Cardinals for a massive $120 million over seven years, paying out $17 million annually.
The season is now half over. Reimold and Pie have combined to play little for the Orioles in left, due to a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness. Holliday, on the other hand, has the third highest WAR total (3.4) of any player in the National League, the eighth highest total in baseball, and the third highest among outfielders behind Carl Crawford and Josh Hamilton. He has been more valuable to date, according to WAR, than his teammate, Albert Pujols.
It isn't likely that even if the Orioles had offered $120 million to Holliday, he would have come here - certainly, playing for a chance at the World Series with Pujols and the Cardinals is a much more attractive situation. Nor does the fact that his contract looks good halfway into its first season mean that it will look nearly as good in 2015. But it does illustrate another point that I've made several times.
While the Cardinals are spending $17 million this season on Holliday, the Orioles went out and spent $6 million on Miguel Tejada, $6 million for this season of Mike Gonzalez, and $4.5 million on the dearly departed Garrett Atkins, for a total of $16.5 million. To date, Tejada has achieved a WAR of 0.8, Gonzalez -0.1, and Atkins of -1.1. The Orioles spent half a million dollars less than the Cardinals, and they received a total WAR of -0.4 for their trouble, a difference of nearly four wins.
It is possible to try to dismiss this by saying that the utter craptasticness of Atkins and the injury to Gonzalez are isolated events, not what should have been anticipated. But even an optimistic preseason expectation would have been that Atkins and Gonzalez would be no more valuable that Tejada actually has been. If we were to credit each of the three with having been worth 0.8 WAR over the first half of the season, they still would total a full win less than Holliday has generated by himself. Teams get wins at a discount the more of them they buy from a single player, even at market rates.
The lesson, once again, is that one star is more valuable and more cost-efficient than several good but not great players. This offseason, I hope the Orioles will learn from this experience, and realize that the smartest purchases in the free agent store tend to be the luxury items.