Former All-Star closer Greg Holland is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Should the Orioles be willing to take a flier on him?
Before Tommy John ended his 2015 season, Greg Holland was one of the most dominant relievers in the game. The right-hander with the dominant slider was an All-Star in 2013 and 2014, while also receiving Cy Young and MVP votes. Over those two seasons, Holland saved 93 games, pitched to a 1.32 ERA over 129.1 innings, and struck out 193 batters. For good reason, Wade Davis was still the eighth-inning guy in Kansas City.
By the end of the 2015 season, it was becoming apparent that Holland was not healthy. His velocity was dropping sharply, and opponents were teeing off. The decline in velocity, drop in strikeout rate, and spike in opponent’s batting average and walk rate all pointed to significant arm trouble. Holland was diagnosed with a torn UCL, and underwent Tommy John surgery in October last year.
As the 31-year-old reliever continues rehabbing, he will return to the big leagues as a free agent as the Royals elected to cut him loose while he sat out the entire 2016 season. Looking to prove his health, Holland has already held a showcase that was well attended by major-league scouts and execs. His velocity is still down, but he showed enough to impress, leading one evaluator to state, “good enough where you could see that if he rehabs properly he’ll get there. There was nothing there to excite you but nothing there to discourage you either.” Holland will also need to prove he can still get the same sharp bite on his wipeout slider.
With over 20 teams attending Holland’s throwing session, a healthy interest in the free agent should develop. Already, the Boston Red Sox are being floated as one of the top contenders. Could the Orioles get in on the action? Holland will be looking for a two-year deal that could top $20 million, but it would be surprising if he gets that much in guaranteed money. Perhaps an incentive-laden deal could push him over $10 million annually if all goes well.
The exact plan for the 2016-17 offseason for the O’s has yet to take shape. They have already been linked in some way to names like Ian Desmond, Wilson Ramos, Rich Hill, and Curtis Granderson. Seeing them actually pull off a big deal for a top-flight player would come as a big surprise considering that arbitration raises for players like Chris Tillman, Manny Machado, and Zach Britton should eat up the nearly $16 million space left by Matt Wieters.
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While it would be nice to assume that the outpouring of capital that brought back Chris Davis, Darren O’Day, and Wieters last winter will continue to be the norm for the Orioles, don’t bet on it. It’s going to be up to Dan Duquette to continue doing Dan Duquette things and cobble together another playoff roster. Chris Carter and Nick Hundley are much more likely to be Orioles in 2017 than Mark Trumbo and Wilson Ramos.
The bullpen is not an area of need for the Orioles — it goes right field, DH, catcher, starting pitching — but should an upgrade still be considered? No matter how you slice it, the Orioles are still getting a giant question mark from the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez, Wade Miley, or Yovani Gallardo every fifth day. The core of the bullpen — Mychal Givens, Brad Brach, Darren O’Day, and Zach Britton — is arguably the best in the league. Throw in lefty specialist Donnie Hart, and the Orioles have the workings of a truly special group that can mask many of the flaws in the rotation.
By virtue of their four-year offer to Trumbo, the Orioles have made it clear that they do have some undisclosed sum of money available to add to next year’s payroll, likely somewhere between $20-30 million. With Dan Duquette opening up around $55 million, and Trumbo seeking $70-80 million, it’s likely the sides will eventually meet in the middle. That could leave around $15 million more to build out the roster.
There are several scenarios that could play out as the Orioles finish their 25-man for 2017. Any one of Jimenez, Miley, or Gallardo could be flipped to clear up more cash. With one of the thinnest starting pitching markets in years, it’s not a stretch to think at least one team will bite on a veteran starter to eat innings. Ideally, the Orioles will add an outfielder with good on-base skills like Angel Pagan to push Trumbo to DH full time. From there, it will be up to the front office to decide whether or not Hundley provides enough offensive value over Caleb Joseph to justify paying him between $8-10 million.
Instead of signing Hundley, whose defense is a liability, the Orioles should save that money and keep an eye on Greg Holland, a potentially elite reliever to assume the middle-relief duties held last year by retreads like Logan Ondrusek, Brian Duensing, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Ashur Tolliver. The Orioles are into their bullpen in the fifth and sixth innings far too often to rely on Quad-A relievers.
Holding the deficit is almost as important as holding the lead with an offense like Baltimore’s. That task becomes easier if Greg Holland can be wooed and is still Greg Holland. The Camden Yards bullpen is an easy landing spot for the former All-Star, as he would slide seamlessly into a low-pressure role in an elite bullpen. No one is better when it comes to managing a bullpen over 162 games than Buck Showalter, and Holland’s innings would be managed smartly to avoid a career-ending arm injury.
Greg Holland to the Orioles makes sense on many levels if both sides are willing to make concessions. The Orioles can afford the $8-10 million a year for Holland, but have shown zero willingness to gamble on injured pitchers. Holland may want a chance to close, which may be difficult to find around the league in the first place. With the Orioles, he could establish himself as an Andrew Miller type reliever, pitching in a wide variety of high-leverage situations.