Nov 1, 2015; New York City, NY, USA; (EDITORS NOTE: caption correction) Kansas City Royals pitcher Greg Holland (right) celebrates with manager Ned Yost (left) after defeating the New York Mets in game five of the World Series at Citi Field. The Royals won the World Series four games to one. MLB Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
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Once one of the best closers in baseball, former Kansas City Royal Greg Holland, was forced to sit out the entire 2016 season rehabbing from an injury. Now that he’s ready to pitch again, what teams look like the best places for the right hander to land?
Once one of the premier relief pitchers in the MLB, Greg Holland has had a quick fall from grace. After posting sub-1.50 ERA’s in 2013 and 2014, the former 10th round pick hit a roadblock in 2015, when he finished the season with a 3.83 ERA and a career-low 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings. Many pointed to the fact that Holland was dealing with arm problems two years ago and eventually had to be shut down in September of 2015 because of Tommy John Surgery.
His rehab lasted through the entire 2016 regular season with the 30 year-old not throwing a single pitch all year. However, that doesn’t mean that Holland’s free agent prospects are all too dim.
He recently threw a live side session for scouts and many left with interest in the right hander. According to multiple reports, Holland was sitting at 88-91 mph and was showing increased velocity as the showcase went on. Granted he was not throwing as hard as he once did when he was an all-star, but teams hope that he can build on this through the offseason and get close to where he was a few years ago.
There is a fairly long list of teams that could be in the market for the former Royals closer, with Scott Boras, Holland’s agent, forecasting that the relief pitcher would be open to a two-year deal with incentives.
Every interested team offers different situations with some hoping to land a closer if they can’t get an upper-tier free agent closer like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen or Mark Melancon. There are also opportunities for Holland to ease back into that role in more of a 7th or 8th inning capacity.
It’s said that you can’t have too much pitching and adding a pitcher with Holland’s track record would be something that intrigues plenty of clubs, even if he is coming off major surgery. With that said, let’s dive into what spots look the most intriguing for the once dominant closer.
Nov 1, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon makes a pitching change against the Cleveland Indians in the 6th inning in game six of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field. MLB. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Cubs (Closer)
Obviously, the Cubs signaled that they were all in when they traded away some of their better prospects for flamethrower Aroldis Chapman. If you haven’t heard, this worked out for Chicago as Chapman was a key component in an incredible 3-1 comeback in the World Series. Now Theo Epstein must deal with how to keep his trade deadline acquisition. The Cubs have to be looking forward to the inevitable contract extensions they are going to have to give their young stars, so Epstein and his staff may decide that they could look elsewhere to fill the 9th inning role without spending so much money.
Enter Greg Holland. Holland has proven himself capable of handling the pressure that goes along with the closing job, but the risk is that the Cubs don’t have much to turn to if he were to falter with inconsistency or injury. Carl Edwards Jr. and Hector Rondon would be the better options, but they are better off looking at the trade market if they can’t sign a premier free agent closer.
Los Angeles Dodgers (Closer)
Dodgers General Manager Andrew Friedman is in the same position as the World Series champs. With all-star Kenley Jansen testing the open market this winter, there is a clear hole in the back end of Dave Roberts bullpen, except his bullpen is probably worse off without Jansen than the Cubs are without Chapman. This puts extra pressure on the front office to come into free agency and re-sign their cutter-throwing closer. Leaving this role to Holland would be too much of a risk with the uncertainty throughout the Dodgers pen.
New York Mets (7th Inning/Possible Setup Man)
Jeurys Familia and Addison Reed made up one of the most dominant 8th-9th inning combinations in all of baseball. Familia led the league in saves and Reed finished 2016 with an impressive 1.97 ERA. However, a wrench was thrown into their plans for next season as when it was reported that Familia was under investigation for domestic abuse. Last season, Aroldis Chapman missed over a month under suspension for his own case even though he never was charged. This could prove similar to the way Rob Manfred will handle this situation, which means that the Mets need to cover their tracks with the sudden uncertainty in their relief corps. Granted, they may not play much in this market because the front office may not want to spend the type of money others will just for a potential fill-in for a suspension that hasn’t happened yet.
Seattle Mariners (Setup Man)
According to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the Mariners are one of the interested clubs vying for Holland’s services. Now the Mariners have their closer in Edwin Diaz, who really impressed me with the work he did in his rookie campaign. However, this isn’t to say that Holland won’t have an important role for a competitive Seattle team. Behind Diaz, there is some uncertainty. The likes of Tom Wilhelmsen, Nick Vincent and Evan Scribner don’t scream dominance. Even though they are not bad, adding Holland would certainly improve their late game performance. Of course that’s if he is close to the same Greg Holland from 2014. Other teams may spend more money and have a bigger hole, so they may not a prime team for the 30 year-old.
Oct 9, 2016; Washington, DC, USA; Washington Nationals relief pitcher Mark Melancon (43) celebrates after their win against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game two of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series at Nationals Park. The Washington Nationals won 5-2.Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports
Holland’s Role: Closer
Like the Dodgers and the Cubs, Washington has a gaping hole in their bullpen that must be addressed in free agency. Mark Melancon may not have gotten the fanfare that Chapman and Andrew Miller received when they were dealt at the deadline, but the 31 year-old was just as effective in his stint with the Nats. The only problem is that he will now hit the free agent market uninhibited without the weight of a qualifying offer because he was traded.
With many teams in need of a closer and with the increasing importance of late inning pitching, Melancon will probably cash-in after Chapman and Jansen come off the board. After investing heavily in Stephen Strasburg during the regular season, the team may not be willing to spend big on a closer now on the wrong side of 30. This opens up an opportunity to heavily pursue Holland in free agency.
Dusty Baker was a calming force on this Nationals squad and the team already went through the problems of having an unsettled bullpen with the Jonathan Papelbon experience now behind them. Do they want to go back to taking another risk with their closer spot? If the Nationals do not make a move it would seem that Shawn Kelley would take the 9th inning role. Kelley is a good relief pitcher, but I have my doubts about much Washington would trust him to secure wins night after night. It looked like the club finally hit their stride after Melancon was entrenched in the closer’s role. But there is a clear hole that Holland could fill in D.C.
Sep 20, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; New York Yankees relief pitcher Dellin Betances (68) pumps his fist after they beat the against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. New York Yankees defeated the Tampa Bay Rays 5-3. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Holland’s Role: Setup Man
What a transformation the Yankees bullpen has gone through since the start of last season. At full strength in 2016, the Yankees had Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning with both Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances there to bridge the gap to the save situation.
This was probably one of the best bullpen combinations that was ever formed, so it was deeply saddening to see Brian Cashman rip them apart (even though he had good reason for doing so). The Yankess general manager traded Chapman to the Cubs and then Miller to the Indians for a bevy of good young players. This was a step in the right direction for the franchise, but it did create some uncertainty in the relief corps.
Betances assumed the role of closer after the deals, but his performance saw mixed results. While the 28 year-old was absolutely unhittable at times, he did have some performances that were tough to watch. I’m still confident in his ability to close games because of his knack for racking up K’s, but it would still be nice to have some experienced relief pitching behind him just in case he can’t handle the role.
Greg Holland would jump into the fray and be the setup man that could potentially support Betances throughout the year. Also, if Holland rounds into form he doesn’t only bring insurance, but also a dominant setup man that the Yankees seem to be lacking at the moment.
Adam Warren pitched well after being traded from Chicago, but a productive Holland would be a much better option late in the game.
It remains to be seen whether the persistent rumors that the Yankees are going to try to get Chapman back will come to fruition, but Holland represents another good option just in-case New York doesn’t land an elite closer in free agency.
Oct 7, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell (right) takes the ball from relief pitcher Matt Barnes (68) against the Cleveland Indians in the sixth inning during game two of the 2016 ALDS playoff baseball series at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Holland’s Role: Setup Man (Committee)
Sometimes the best situation may not bring all the glory. That’s what Greg Holland would have to accept of he decided to make the move to Fenway Park. With this being said, Boston still represents a very viable option for the free agent reliever.
Despite some shaky outings to end the year, there’s no doubting that Craig Kimbrel is the Red Sox’s closer come 2017. He’s proven himself to be one of the best in the game in the ninth inning and Dave Dombrowski invested a some of his better minor leaguers to make him the closer.
However, there is a noticeable hole in Boston’s bullpen even with Kimbrel entrenched in the team’s closing spot. Koji Uehara, Boston’s setup man from last season, is a free agent and the team is looking for a couple of guys to fill his shoes in 2017.
The Red Sox do have some high quality upside arms available in Matt Barnes and Joe Kelly, but Holland could bring some veteran experience to these two younger arms. The former all-star does not have the pure stuff that Barnes and Kelly do, but he has the track record and the experience to bring stability if needed for John Farrell.
There is a reason that the Red Sox have been rumored to be one of the most aggressive clubs in regards to their pursuit of Holland in free agency. Boston is in need of a respected veteran relief pitcher and Holland could be that guy if he is willing to step away from the closer’s role.
Dombrowski has shown that he is willing to invest in late inning relievers, so this could be one of the more wealthier spots that Holland could choose this winter.
Oct 7, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy (15) looks on before game one of the 2016 NLDS playoff baseball series against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Holland’s Role: Closer or Setup Man
San Francisco is another team in need of a closer. However, unlike the Nationals, Cubs and Dodgers, they are not trying to re-sign their own free agents, but rather potentially poach one from a fellow National League contender.
Bruce Bochy struggled to find a reputable closer last season as he rotated through names like Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Hunter Strickland. In other relief roles, these hurlers would be solid, but the Giants need to greatly step up their bullpen if they want to stop an odd year trend in 2017.
Trading for Will Smith at the trade deadline last year did not work out the way they might have hoped, and with both Romo and Casilla have entered free agency this winter. All of this means that the bullpen needs a pretty significant makeover.
It’s always tough to force the issue and have a free agent leave his most recent team, so the Giants may have to enter the Holland market if they want to improve their bullpen. It is in this franchise’s nature to take roads less traveled with late inning relievers. Outside of Brian Wilson, the team has found guys that did not previously perform extensively in the closer’s role and have ridden them to World Series championships (or they have relied on the machine known as Madison Bumgarner).
Holland would represent another good calculated risk. He won’t cost nearly as much as a top-of-the-line free agent closer and there is upside that he will return to out least close to what he once was in Kansas City. Signing Holland would also give the team the ability to splurge on another big name free agent outfielder or possibly even one of those better closers.
It looks like Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans are willing to spend some money this offseason and Holland could capitalize if the Giants decide to heavily pursue him.
Sep 15, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) celebrates with catcher Salvador Perez (13) after defeating the Cleveland Indians 2-0 at Progressive Field. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports
Holland’s Role: Late Inning Reliever
Yeah it’s a cop out, but when it comes down to it Holland’s best choice, it may be to come back to familiar surroundings.
Scott Boras is always trying to maximize profit for his clients and he won’t be able to do that this free agency period because there is just too much risk involved with his client. So where he could he go to rebuild value on a reasonable deal and then land a big contract next offseason? Well the Kansas City Royals look like the perfect choice.
Holland would certainly be comfortable in the environment that Ned Yost has created and he also wouldn’t have all the pressure on him with other great relievers like Wade Davis, Kelvin Herrera and to a lesser extent, Joakim Soria on the roster. Heck, even rookie Matt Strahm proved that he can produce at the big league level.
Still, the six-year veteran could be eased back into high leverage worm so that when he is ready, he’ll have the best chance to succeed and rebuild his market value for next winter.
It’s a boring fit, it may not look great on paper, but it probably gives Holland the best chance to re-establish himself in Major League Baseball so that Scott Boras can find him a much bigger contract than what he’s going to get this offseason.