San Francisco Giants: If Things Go Well, Holland Would be Worth the Risk

Aug 7, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Greg Holland (56) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 7, 2015; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals pitcher Greg Holland (56) delivers a pitch against the Chicago White Sox during the ninth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports /

The San Francisco Giants need to upgrade their bullpen, and if things go well at his showcase, Greg Holland could be worth the risk.

The offseason is officially underway, and free agency is right around the corner. The San Francisco Giants enter the winter with pretty specific needs. Mainly, they need to upgrade the bullpen.

On the other side, a pitcher comes with a need. He needs a team for whom to pitch. Greg Holland is available, and just about ready to return to a mound. The soon-to-be 31-year-old pitcher certainly has the résumé to make a difference for the Giants.

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Holland has outstanding career numbers. In 309 games (all relief appearances) over six seasons with the Kansas City Royals, Holland has posted a 2.42 ERA, 1.123 WHIP, and struck out 12.1 batters per nine innings. He earned his first All-Star nod during the 2013 season by pitching to a 1.21 ERA and 0.866 WHIP while striking out 13.8 per nine (the second-highest total in baseball, minimum 50 innings pitched). He finished ninth in American League Cy Young voting that year.

In 2014, he repeated his All-Star appearance and ninth-place finish in Cy Young voting. As part of the vaunted bullpen trio that propelled the Royals to an AL pennant, he finished the year with a 1.44 ERA, 0.914 WHIP, and 13 K/9 while saving 46 ballgames. In the postseason, he allowed just one run on four hits in 11 innings while striking out 15.

2015 was a down year for Holland. In 48 games, his ERA shot up to 3.83 and WHIP skyrocketed to 1.455. His strikeouts took a pretty big tumble down to 9.9 per nine innings while he walked a career-high 5.2 per nine. In late September, a significant tear in his right UCL was discovered, and the dreaded Tommy John surgery called his name. Holland was non-tendered by Kansas City, making him a free agent. He went unsigned and missed the entire 2016 season while recovering.

In October last year, it was revealed that the injury was a lingering one for Holland. The Royals believed he pitched through a lot of the 2014 season, the entire postseason, and the 2015 season with the elbow damage. If that was the case, his 2014 numbers are that much more impressive, and the fact that he pitched at all above-average in 2015 is nearly a miracle. Even though his fastball velocity was nearly two miles per hour under his career average, pitching through the pain in 2015 was extremely impressive.

Now healthy, Holland will hold an open audition of sorts for big league clubs, and the Giants are expected to be in attendance.

If Holland is anywhere near the pitcher he was in 2013 and 2014, any team would be lucky to have him. His hard-biting slider, which sits in the high 80’s on the radar gun, is virtually impossible to hit when Holland is planting it way down below the knees. His mid-90’s fastball, which has come in a touch higher at times in the past, comes with nearly impeccable command.

But it remains to be seen if Holland is still that same pitcher. Maybe he pitched so long with the bad elbow that he won’t be the same pitcher again. Maybe the surgery didn’t have the desired effect. Or maybe, Holland is fully back and ready to return to 2013/2014 levels.

That’s what the open tryout is for. Holland will try to prove to the teams that there are no lasting side effects from the surgery, and that he is on track to be an impactful relief pitcher right now.

Signing Holland may be a risk, but if everything goes well at the tryout, it’s a risk the Giants should consider taking if the price is right. They need to upgrade the bullpen, and with Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, and Javier Lopez likely finished as Giants, there isn’t a ton of veteran experience in their bullpen. Holland not only can be a difference-maker, but can add that extra experience that every team needs.

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Holland shouldn’t command anywhere near what top relievers like Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen, and Mark Melancon will on the free market. While those pitchers will certainly get hefty paydays, Holland comes as an attractive cheaper option, albeit with more risk.

Plus, if Holland comes cheap enough (and he likely will), the Giants will still have room in the budget to go after someone else. Depending on how much the team is willing to spend, getting Holland plus a guy like Melancon or Jensen doesn’t seem out of the question.

There is going to be plenty of that risk to signing a guy like Holland. By the time exhibition games roll around, he will be far enough removed from the surgery, but there’s still no telling how well he will do against live hitting. A showcase isn’t an indicator for success.

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But the Giants are in a good position to be able to take a bit of a risk like this. If they miss on Holland, it isn’t necessarily the end of the world. If they hit on him, it would be a huge addition moving forward.