Red Sox have interest in reliever Greg Holland as setup man

The Boston Red Sox could make a significant change in their roster by adding closer Greg Holland as a setup man, if Koji Uehara doesn’t re-sign.

There’s a great distance between the Red Sox and obtaining Holland’s services, but the journey may prove to be an interesting one. Just ask Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, who made comments about Boston looking into Holland’s availability: “It makes some sense. With bullpens evolving like they are – as was evidenced by the [Cleveland] Indians’ regular season and postseason use of Andrew Miller – the notion of the Red Sox at least kicking the tires on Greg Holland is understandable.”

Bradford also reported that “Red Sox representatives are planning on attending Monday’s showcase for the former [Kansas City] Royals closer.”

The 30-year-old righty pitcher from North Carolina was with the Royals from 2010 to 2015. Holland made All-Star appearances in 2013 and 2014, earning a combined 93 saves in 98 opportunities. In only 67 innings in 2013, Holland struck out a staggering 103 batters. The following year, he struck out 90 batters in only 62 innings.

If he had not pitched the entire 2015 season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament, which required Tommy John surgery at the end of the year, Holland would still be considered one of the elite closers in the game. Instead, he missed out on the 2016 season, as the baseball world waited for Holland’s body to heal.

At present, his status is still a mystery.

Sep 18, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (56) at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Bradford added that Holland’s agent, “Scott Boras, recently told the New York Post that Holland is back to throwing in the low 90s and is ‘back at full steam’ heading into the offseason.” He will need to prove that any lack of velocity is due to a recovery process and not any structural or other long-term issue. The injury severely marred how batters saw Holland, “with his average fastball going from 96 to 93 mph.” Opposing lineups were able to cash in more runs by being able to catch up to the stuff that Holland was throwing.

All of those clouds still hang over Holland while the Red Sox could already have the sun shining through their own issues.

Carson Smith, another big-name reliever, was already brought to Boston to become a major factor in the Red Sox bullpen last season; however, he had pitched only 2.2 innings before he had to have his own Tommy John surgery to his throwing elbow, back in May. If he can heal up to where he was playing for the Seattle Mariners, striking out 92 batters in 70 innings in 2015, Smith would be a much more cost-effective option. The Red Sox are paying him only $529 thousand until his arbitration eligibility kicks in during the 2018 campaign, with free agency in 2021. Boston’s contractual control over Smith, as well as his health, will play a key factor in whether the Red Sox want to look outside of the team for the setup role to be filled.

That’s not counting other current relievers on the Red Sox roster, such as Joe Kelly, who could claim the spot.

Brad Ziegler is another candidate, if the Red Sox could re-sign him. They already know what he’s capable of providing them, compared to Holland’s possible potential.

However, Koji Uehara is the biggest question. At 41 years old, many doubters expect this Japanese star to have the rising sun finally set on his career. Yet, that’s what they were saying about him when he was 40. After a rocky start to last season, Koji only allowed two earned runs in eight appearances in July. Even after a right pectoral strain put him on the shelf for months, Uehara returned in September by shutting out teams in 11 appearances; his opposing batting average was .167.

Having Uehara re-sign with the Red Sox would also make for a cheaper investment. In the twilight of his career, if he doesn’t retire, Uehara could not expect a big payday, whereas Holland is still young enough to expect big money if he proves that he’s healthy.

If he is healthy, Holland might not even want to be considered a setup man. There’s no way that the Red Sox would consider changing their closer from being Craig Kimbrel, so that idea will definitely play a factor, as well.

It may all be a moot point, anyways. The San Francisco Giants, the Royals, and the New York Yankees also have shown interest in Holland’s services. With that many teams talking with him, two big-spending clubs and Holland’s former team, it’s hard to see him make his way to Boston if he still sees himself as a closer. It’s also hard to see the Red Sox paying him a ton of money to hand the ball over to Kimbrel in the ninth inning.

It’s also the MLB postseason; anything is possible.

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