Chicago Cubs: Reliever Greg Holland makes sense, at the right price

(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /

The Chicago Cubs need bullpen help, specifically late-game relievers. Former closer Greg Holland is a free agent and could make a lot of sense.

Some things in life seem simpler than they truly are. This might be one of those occasions. With that being said, the Chicago Cubs should explore signing free agent reliever Greg Holland.

Two things can be and are true about Holland’s 2018 season: he was terrible, and he was magnificent. How can that be possible, you ask? Well, the explanation requires a brief look back in time.

As good as it gets

Holland was one of MLB’s premier closers during his six-year career with the Kansas City Royals. In 309 appearances (all in relief) he posted a 2.42 ERA, 145 saves, 430 strikeouts, 125 walks in 319 2/3 innings.

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From 2011-2015, Holland posted a sub-2.00 ERA three times, including a career-best 1.21 ERA in 2013. The right-hander’s 3.83 ERA in 2015 was his worst since his 6.75 in 15 appearances in 2010.

Holland was the Royals’ closer role for much of their 2015 championship season. However, a torn right UCL that September ended his season before Kansas City’s playoff run.

Holland missed the 2016 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, though he posted a nice comeback season in 2017. In 61 appearances with the Colorado Rockies, Holland saved 41-of-45 games with a 3.61 ERA.

The downward spiral starts

While Holland was an All-Star in 2017, it was a tale of two seasons for him. Before the break, he was 28 of 29 in saves with a 1.62 ERA in 35 appearances (33 1/3 innings).

After, though? Holland’s ERA jumped to 6.38 in 26 appearances (24 innings), converting 13-of-16 saves. Holland allowed two home runs before the break and five after it, respectively.

Opponents also hit .161 against Holland before the All-Star Break and .232 after it. Coors Field is notoriously a hitter’s ballpark, but Holland’s home ERA (3.34, 29 2/3 innings) was actually better than his road ERA (3.90, 27 2/3 innings).

Things got worse for Holland before they got better, as he was one of the many veteran free agents signed after Spring Training started.

Lack of Spring Training hurts

The St. Louis Cardinals signed Holland on March 31, 2018. Consequentially, the right-hander had to prepare for the 2018 campaign without the benefit of Spring Training.

To make matters worse, the Cardinals called Holland up from Single-A on April 9. The Cardinals threw him into the fire with essentially one week of preparation time.

MLB pitchers, of course, report to Spring Training a few weeks before position players. So rather than having “extra” time to prepare for the season, Holland had hardly any time at all.

After delivering a 7.92 ERA in 32 appearances (25 innings), the Cardinals released Holland on Aug. 1. The Washington Nationals signed the right-hander on Aug. 7, and Holland went on to post a 0.84 ERA in 24 games (21 1/3 innings).

Bounce back

With the Nationals, opponents hit .130 against Holland, whose WHIP was an astonishing 0.891. Maybe all he needed was a change of scenery, in addition to the obvious need for a Spring Training.

No matter the reason, something clicked with Holland in the nation’s capital. And while he has a major injury in his past, 2018 showed that he can be effective post-surgery.

The Cardinals signed Holland to a one-year contract for $14 million. He surely is worth that much, based on his second half of 2018. Whether he gets that much in free agency, considering his Cardinals stint, is up for debate.

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The Cubs seem to be hyper budget-conscious this offseason. If Holland is willing to sign for a more team-friendly deal, he is more than worth the look, at least on a one-year contract.