Matt Holliday thrilled to be with Yankees

OXON HILL, MD — There are a lot of changes in store for Matt Holliday now that he’s officially the newest member of the Yankees.

Following more than a dozen years as an everyday outfielder, he’ll serve as the Yankees’ primary designated hitter, sprinkling in some first base and possibly outfield work. He’ll also have to find some new digits to wear on his back, as his previous numbers – he’s worn 5, 15 and 7 during his career — are all off limits.

“I looked; there’s only a few left,” Holliday told the Daily News in a telephone interview from his home in Jupiter, Fla. “Good grief, almost all the numbers are retired.”

That’s about the worst of Holliday’s problems after he signed a one-year, $13 million deal to join the Yankees following his seven-plus years with the Cardinals.

Yankees sign Matt Holliday to one-year, $13 million deal

Holliday, who turns 37 next month, took his physical Wednesday morning, finalizing the deal he agreed to Sunday.

“I would have liked to have gotten a two-year deal or more; I want to play three or four more years,” Holliday said. “I’ll take the one-year deal, hopefully go out and play really well and see what happens.”

Having been around baseball his entire life — his father is a long-time college coach — the opportunity to play for the Yankees at this stage of his career was appealing.

Holliday will likely split time between playing first base and being the Yankees’ DH.

Holliday will likely split time between playing first base and being the Yankees’ DH.

(Jeff Roberson/AP)

“Being somebody that grew up in a baseball family and a baseball environment, to be a part of the New York Yankees is quite a thrill,” Holliday said. “It’s something that I’m pretty proud to get a chance to play for the Yankees and be a part of such a storied franchise with all the winning and all the things that come with being a New York Yankee.”

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After trading Brian McCann last week, the Yankees were in the market for a veteran bat to put in the DH role. Once Carlos Beltran signed with the Astros, Holliday seemed to be the ideal fit given his ability to play multiple positions in addition to being a DH.

“We haven’t really talked about what that might look like this year,” Holliday said of his playing time split. “I feel really good about being able to play the outfield and some first base, and obviously to get a chance to DH, it helps to stay healthy and to be able to feel fresh and have your best swing over a long season.”

Although he’s played only 10 of his 1,773 career games at first base, Holliday believes he’ll be ready to provide relief there for presumptive starter Greg Bird, who is returning from shoulder surgery. He worked with Jose Oquendo, the Cardinals’ long-time respected third-base and infield coach, to get the basics of the position down after playing nothing but outfield for his entire career.

“I put a lot of time into it last offseason,” Holliday said. “I knew that at some point in my career – I didn’t know it would be last year – if that was something a team needed me to do, I wanted to be able to do it. I felt a lot more comfortable going into spring training, got some time in spring training and then in regular-season games, so I feel really good about it.”

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Holliday will be joining a Yankees roster that is likely to include several young, inexperienced players such as Bird, Gary Sanchez and Aaron Judge. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Tuesday that Holliday, who won a ring with St. Louis in 2011, “was one of the guys we knew we could depend on to teach the game the right way and then go out and compete the right way,” something the Yankees will need in the absence of departed veterans including McCann and Beltran.

“Watching young players develop, getting to know them personally, helping them not only on the baseball field, but in situations away from the field is something I enjoy and have really benefited from,” Holliday said.

“I’m going to look forward to that part; there are a lot of great, young players with the Yankees. That was part of the appeal of this, getting to play with some really talented players and joining the group of veterans that are already in place while winning along the way.”

Holliday pointed to the help he received from veterans he came up with in Colorado including All-Stars Todd Helton and Larry Walker, but it was bench players Todd Greene and Mark Sweeney also had a profound impact on Holliday adapting to big-league life.

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“They took a lot of pride in helping young players and showing them the ropes,” Holliday said. “They took me to lunch every day and took me under their wing. As much as watching and getting tips from Helton and Walker, those guys had a big impact on me, as well. They took care of me in my rookie year.”

Many view the Yankees’ current situation as a transition period, but Holliday believes his new team is capable of surprising some people and making a run to October.

“I think they proved it at the end of last year; everyone kind of counted them out when they traded Chapman, Miller and Beltran, but the young guys came up and played really well,” Holliday said. “In looking at the roster and knowing how young guys can step up and take big leaps once they get some experience, I think this can be a really good, competitive season. I’m excited about that.”

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