Over the weekend, Nick Cafardo (Boston Globe) reported that after the Rockies signed free agent closer Wade Davis, the Cubs were among the teams emerging in the market for fellow free agent closer Greg Holland. And earlier today, a local reporter, Patrick Mooney, indicated the same, which means it’s time to take this rumor seriously.
Up until now, the Cubs’ interest in Holland has been extremely quiet and/or underplayed, at the most (perhaps even non-existent at the least). In fact, I had come to assume that the Cubs were going to avoid this tier of free agent relievers altogether if they couldn’t get Wade Davis back (and on their terms) – which they weren’t able to do. So, yes, their interest in Holland now is a bit of a surprise.
That said, it’s a surprise in the same way that the Cubs’ reported interest in Lorenzo Cain was a surprise: not something you’d expect based on the projected cost, the draft pick compensation, and the roster/payroll situation, but given the state of the market, the Cubs might as well check things out. And in the case of Holland, at least he’s more at a position of need than Cain.
If you remember back to my free agent profile on Holland (nearly a month ago), you’ll know that last season’s peripherals scared me off of him quite a bit. Despite mostly solid results by the end of the year, he had a bad fly ball rate, ground ball rate, walk rate, soft hit rate, and hard hit rate. That’s an extremely ugly set of peripherals in general, let alone in today’s fly ball/juiced ball era.
Of course, that’s not the entire story and 2017 isn’t all that matters (especially in Holland’s case, but we’ll get to that in a second):
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.
Holland was forced to miss all of 2016 because of Tommy John surgery, but proved he was healthy last year, while pitching in Colorado. That he was able to be even somewhat successful in that hitter’s paradise, with those peripherals, and just a year removed from Tommy John surgery is encouraging.
If the Cubs’ interest is real, maybe they’re guessing that his peripherals and results will return to form as he continues to move further away from TJS – pitchers tend to stabilize around 18 months after surgery – and moves out of Colorado (they made a similar bet in Tyler Chatwood, after all).
… or maybe they’re just trying to drive up the price on the Cardinals who are clearly in need of a closer and have been in an open pursuit of Holland all winter.
Or maybe the deal that Davis got from the Rockies (3 years/$52M), and/or the extremely slow market overall, and/or the rapidly completed market for many other relievers besides Holland, changed Holland’s asking price. And perhaps now the Cubs are suddenly OK with the level of commitment it would take to land the 32-year-old closer.
In any case, thanks to the additions of Brandon Morrow and Steve Cishek, the Cubs can afford to remain patient and try to get Holland on their terms. If he finds a better deal elsewhere, so be it. If they drive up the price on the Cardinals, so be it.
But if the Cubs can remain patient and land, say, someone like Holland and a starter from the upper tier of free agency (slightly more possible pending this Astros-Cole trade) on relatively really good deals (they’d have to be for the Cubs to stay under the luxury tax cap with room to spare for in-season moves), the Cubs will have had a fantastic, and cost-conscious offseason. Which especially matters as they pull that shopping list out for next offseason.