The Chicago Cubs figure to be fairly active in free agency this offseason, so it’s worth taking a look at some of the players who could be of interest to the team.
These players present possible fits for the Cubs, at a range of potential costs and talent levels.
Performance in 2017
In 2017, at the age of 31, Greg Holland returned from Tommy John surgery (more on that later) and posted a pretty solid season for the Colorado Rockies on the surface (41 saves, 3.61 ERA).
But when you dig deeper …
If you’re looking for a sure-fire, lock-down closer type, those are some absolutely terrifying peripherals.
Aside from an admittedly excellent 29.8% strikeout rate, Holland’s advanced metrics were pretty terrible in 2017. His walk rate was well above average, his ground ball rate was well below, his fly ball rate was too high, and he did a poor job at inducing weak contact. In a fly ball revolution and juiced ball era, those are UH, UH! NO WAY! numbers.
Frankly, I have no clue how he managed just an 11.3% HR/FB ratio in Coors Field with that hard-hit rate.
I know he managed to get 41 saves and that’ll pique some interest from fans/teams, but yuck, I just don’t like how he got there.
Performance Before 2017
With that said, don’t forget that he wasn’t a one-year wonder.
In the four seasons from 2011-2014, Holland was the second best closer in baseball (by WAR) behind only Craig Kimbrel, and ahead of Aroldis Chapman. During that stretch (256.1 IP), he posted a 1.86 ERA and an equally impressive 1.92 FIP. He was also striking batters out at a 35.2% clip, and while he was still walking too many guys (9.0%), his rate was a lot more manageable.
His numbers took a bit of a hit in 2015 (25.4% strikeout rate, 13.5% walk rate, 3.83 ERA, 3.27 FIP), but he was still posting a solid 49.1% ground ball rate and limited the contact well (22.9% soft-hit, 27.1% hard-hit). And, as it turns out, the sudden loss of command was likely tied to the fact that he had a tear in his UCL which shut him down and required Tommy John surgery, forcing him to miss all of 2016.
Projection for 2018 and Beyond
And that’s sorta why you have to still consider Holland in 2018.
When you return from Tommy John surgery, you don’t only have to work your velocity back up, command issues can linger, too. If, somehow, Holland’s command returns to him in 2018, he might quickly reestablish himself as a top shelf closer.
And what do you know, that process may have already started:
First-half 2017: 12.4 BB%
Second-half 2017: 9.4 BB%
And that’s not all he improved:
First-half 2017: 15.7% soft-hit, 35.7% hard-hit
Second-half 2017: 17.7% soft-hit, 32.4% hard-hit
His strikeout rate and ground ball rate both decreased in the second half, though, so it wasn’t a complete turnaround. Still, those are some encouraging trends. (Of course, on the flip side, Holland’s strikeout rate dropped, his BABIP rose, and home run rate spiked massively in the second half, so it’s not all good. Far from it, actually.)
The 2018 Rockies ZiPS projections just came out, and according to that system, Holland will probably be pretty good overall, even if he’s not quite his former self: 28.8 K%, 12.2 BB%, 3.61 ERA, 3.28 FIP (47.3 IP).
Is that someone you want to give multiple years and a ton of money? And give up a draft pick to sign? I’m not so sure.
Possible Contract/Existing Rumors
With that said, at FanRag, Jon Heyman (4 years/$60M) and his expert (4 years/$64M) seem to believe that teams will bet on his past success and expected resurgence, because those are some SERIOUS contract requirements. I know he was a former dominant closer, but you know, that feels like too much.
At MLB Trade Rumors, they’re projecting a more reasonable deal in terms of dollars ($50M), but are still giving Holland four years. Then again, that does help to spread out the AAV (for luxury tax purposes) quite a bit, so that’s certainly a more stomach-able deal.
So far, the Rockies feel like the best bet to resign their closer, given their needs and expected competitiveness, but the Cardinals and even Cubs have been loosely mentioned here and there as well. Frankly, any team with a need at the back end of the bullpen is going to check in. With Brandon Morrow in the fold, the Cubs might be slightly less inclined to pony up big money for an established closer, but it’s not like they’re out of the market entirely.
As I mentioned, Holland received Tommy John surgery at the end of 2015 and missed all of 2016, but he was mostly healthy for his career before that. After a full 2017 campaign (57.1 IP) and the recent TJS success rates, the important questions are probably more about his effectiveness than his health.
But that’s not the only consideration here.
Holland has also received and rejected a qualifying offer this winter, which means he’ll be tied to draft pick compensation. Because the Cubs managed to stay under the luxury tax threshold in 2017, they wouldn’t pay the steepest draft pick compensation for signing a qualified free agent like Holland, but they would be forced to give up their second-highest draft pick and $500K of international bonus pool money.
Fit for Cubs
… And altogether, that feels like too much.
If you have to give up $60 million, your second round draft pick, and $500K in international bonus pool money to sign a 32-year-old, recent Tommy John recoveree in Greg Holland, I think you’re giving up more than you’re getting – especially in a free agent class loaded with relief options.
With that said, he is a proven closer and succeeded last year despite so much working against him. If his price comes down enough, I could see why the Cubs might want to get involved (though they did specifically say they were looking for guys with lower walk rates). It’d be a risky move, again with so many other options out there, but if it pays off, you might end up with one of the best closers in baseball.