The Cardinals activated Matt Holliday from the DLon Friday but also said there is a strong likelihood he will not be back with the team next year. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

The Cardinals activated Matt Holliday from the disabled list on Friday – at the same time announcing that this weekend’s series will in all likelihood be his final games with the team.

General Manager John Mozeliak told reporters that he had informed Holliday there was only a “low” probability that the team would pick up his $17 million option for next season.

Mozeliak said before the game he wanted to at least have the chance where the fans could salute Holliday for his contributions to the Cardinals during his career, and give Holliday the chance to thank the fans as well.

The chance came in the seventh inning. With the Cardinals leading the Pirates 5-0, Holliday came out of the dugout to pinch-hit for Carlos Martinez. He responded to the moment by hitting the first pinch-hit homer of his career.

The players in the dugout, particularly Adam Wainwright, celebrated while Holliday, fighting back tears, jogged around the bases on what could turn out to be the final blast of his career with the Cardinals.

“We don’t know what the future is going to hold,” Mozeliak said. “Matt had reached out to me earlier in the week asking me to have an understanding of what we were going to do with his option and I told him the probability of us picking it was low. I asked him if he would like that moment if he could get a chance to play this weekend, after 7 ½ year great years here.

“Matt has been an amazing teammate, a success in being a key member of the team. He reached out to us today and said he would like to be activated. In terms of when we use him, time will tell.”

The decision about whether to pick up the option or giving Holliday a $1 million buyout has to be made officially within five days of the end of this year’s World Series.

“There’s been a lot of speculation going on about what was going to happen and to honor my relationship with Matt I thought it was better to be honest with him rather than just say we would address that after the season,” Mozeliak said.

Mozeliak said he was not ready to completely rule out the possibility of Holliday returning to the Cardinals next season. Even if the team declines the option, it always could work out a new agreement, likely for less money, If it would benefit both the team and Holliday.

“We haven’t had our off-season meetings, we certainly have an understanding of what we think will happen and what we want the club to look like, but those kinds of conversations are always done when the season ends,” Mozeliak said. “We still have three important games to play.”

Holliday did not meet with the media but issued a statement through the Cardinals’ public relations department.

“I am proud of what we have accomplished on and off the field during the past seven years,” Holliday said in the statement. “It has been an honor to play in front of such great fans and for such a historic organization. I can honestly say it’s been a dream come true.”

Holliday said he was “disappointed” to learn the Cardinals likely will not pick up his option but added, “I understand that it might be time to move on.”

Holliday, 36, has not played since Aug. 11, when he broke his right thumb when he was hit by a pitch by Mike Montgomery of the Cubs in a game at Wrigley Field. Holliday tried to expedite his recovery from the injury by having screws inserted into his thumb in a surgical procedure, but every time he has tried to take “live” batting practice in the last several days he has experienced swelling in his thumb.

The unknown is what decision would have been made about picking up the option if that play had not happened.

“It stinks,” Mozeliak said. “The unfortunate part of baseball or sports are injuries. In his case, he literally got a bad break, no pun intended. I feel bad about that, but I also, when you sit in my seat, it can’t solely be on relationship and only maybe the short view. We have to think about the organization and how we think we can get stronger.

“Nothing ever lasts forever, especially in sports.”

Manager Mike Matheny, a close friend of Holliday’s even before he was named manager after the 2011 season, said he expects Holliday to be playing somewhere next season.

“I don’t think there’s a question about that, at least in the conversations we’ve had,” Matheny said. “He’s a guy that’s a thinker and I know he’s going to lean on his faith and his family to make a decision that he believes is going to be best for their future.

“I haven’t point blank asked him but I can tell by his desire to possibly make something work here that he still has a desire to play.”

Mozeliak said that was the impetus for activating him from the DL on Friday.

“Here’s a man who gave us 7 ½ great years and he’s grateful for the fans’ support and if there’s a moment when the fans can recognize him over the next three days, we’d like to see that happen,” Mozeliak said.

The Cardinals acquired Holliday in a trade from Oakland on July 24, 2009 for pitcher Clayton Mortensen, outfielder Shane Peterson and first baseman Brett Wallace. Holliday became a free agent at the end of that season and signed a seven-year, $120 million deal, the largest player contract in Cardinals’ history.

He was a four-time All-Star during his years with the Cardinals, which began after five years with the Rockies and a half-season in Oakland. He has 294 career homers and .303 average.

“This guy’s has been a pillar in this organization for a good amount of time now, and not knowing how this thing plays out over the winter, (we are) trying to give him the respect that he deserves,” Matheny said about activating Holliday for this weekend. “It’s a tough conversation for all of us to try to make sure we don’t have any regrets of what we should try to do.

“I don’t think throwing him out there is a stretch because he is one of the best bats we’ve had for a while. What we’ve seen in the live sections looks really good.”

The last two years have been interrupted by injuries for Holliday, who played only 73 games in 2015 because of two stints on the disabled list with a quad injury. He has played 107 games this year, with a career-low .242 average, 19 homers and 60 RBIs.

In his statement, Holliday said, “The most emotional part of this is my teammates and the relationships I’ve built with some of these guys over the years, particularly with Adam (Wainwright) and Yadi (Molina), to be considered part of the core with two of the finest human beings I’ve ever known.

“I’m eternally thankful for the Lord bringing me to the city of St. Louis. Lots of cool stuff has happened since then. Of behalf of my wife Leslee and our children Jackson, Ethan, Gracyn and Reed, thank you.”

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains