The Cardinals are not the only team pursuing free-agent left fielder Matt Holliday.
The Orioles have jumped into the bidding, though both the seriousness of their efforts and Holliday’s desire to play in Baltimore are in question, major-league sources say.
Holliday, 29, is unlikely to go to the Orioles — a team coming off 12 straight losing seasons — unless they make him a much stronger offer than the Cardinals.
The Orioles, meanwhile, might only participate in the Holliday sweepstakes as a token gesture, an effort to demonstrate to their fans that they are trying to improve.
Still, the idea of Holliday signing with the Orioles could make sense for a number of reasons:
• Holliday would join a team on the rise.
The Orioles, deep in young talent, are becoming aggressive in free agency and trades as they seek to return to contention in the highly competitive AL East.
The team traded for right-hander Kevin Millwood during the winter meetings, then reached agreement Wednesday night on free-agent contracts for left-handed closer Mike Gonzalez and third baseman Garrett Atkins.
• The Orioles have the money.
A year ago, the O’s bid $140 million over seven years for free-agent first baseman Mark Teixeira.
Teixeira, who grew up in a Baltimore suburb, had greater value to the Orioles than Holliday. The bid, however, demonstrated that the O’s are capable of making such a move.
• The relationship between Holliday and Atkins.
The two are close friends from their days together with the Rockies.
One executive, before Atkins signed with the Orioles, speculated that the infielder might follow Holliday to the Cardinals.
That option no longer is available, and Holliday will not take less money from the Orioles simply to play with Atkins. Still, the Orioles’ signing of Atkins should only help them make a positive impression on Holliday.
• The unpredictability of Orioles owner Peter Angelos.
Angelos clearly is more willing to deal with Holliday’s agent, Scott Boras, than in the past. The bid for Teixeira was one example, the signing of Gonzalez was another. Both are represented by Boras, as is Millwood, who is under contract for only one more year.
The Orioles, under Angelos, have taken occasional plunges into free agency, signing outfielder Albert Belle to a five-year, $65 million contract after the 1998 season and shortstop Miguel Tejada to a six- year, $72 million deal after the 2003 season.
Holliday might cost twice as much as Tejada, if not more. But signing him would energize the Orioles’ beaten-down fan base.
• The increased depth could help the Orioles trade for pitching.
The Orioles already boast one of the game’s best young outfields — Nolan Reimold, Adam Jones and Nick Markakis.
Adding Holliday would give them the flexibility to make other moves.
Reimold, coming off surgery to repair a partial tear of his left Achilles tendon, will have greater trade value once he is healthy. But if the Orioles added Holliday, they could move Reimold to first base and trade outfielder Luke Scott.
The best guess, still, is that Holliday will return to the Cardinals.
The Mets, who touched base with Boras on Wednesday, are more likely to sign Jason Bay. No other suitor has publicly emerged.
The Orioles, without question, qualify as a longshot. But, at some undetermined level, they are in the game.