If there is one thing I am certain of, it is that there is no one specific way to build a bullpen. But trying to add good to elite players is never a bad strategy, and someone like Greg Holland could prove a worthwhile and relatively low-key addition this winter.
By multiple reports, the Dodgers were one of several teams to watch Holland throw two simulated innings on Monday at Grand Canyon University in Arizona, a showcase set up to show that Holland is healthy and recovered from Tommy John surgery he had in October 2015.
This offseason features the most closer-heavy free agent market ever, highlighted by Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon.
We saw with Jansen and Chapman in the playoffs, and with Indians’ relief ace Andrew Miller in both the postseason and regular season, the willingness of managers to expand the usage of their best reliever, either in longer save situations or in non-save situations but higher leverage spots earlier in the game.
The off days in the postseason offer the necessary rest, and the heightened payoff a larger potential reward to go along with the risk of such a strategy. It was easier for Cleveland to use Miller like they did because they had a dominant closer in Cody Allen behind him if needed.
The Dodgers tried to double up on elite relievers with a deal in place to acquire Chapman last December, only to back out once news of his domestic violence incident surfaced, an altercation with his girlfriend that saw Chapman serve a 30-day suspension to open the 2016 season.
Sans Chapman, but with 12 different pitchers who made at least 22 relief appearances, the Dodgers led MLB in relief ERA (3.35), games (606), innings (590⅔) and strikeouts (633).
Whether the Dodgers bring back Jansen or go in a different direction going forward, there is still room for Holland, who if fully recovered could be back to his dominant ways.
Holland saved 125 games for the Royals from 2013-2015, but while the elbow injury affected his 2015 campaign he was the cream of the crop among closers in the first two years of that stretch.
In 2013-14, Holland put up a 1.32 ERA and 1.59 FIP, while striking out 193 players in 129⅓ innings. His strikeout rate in those two years was 39%, second only to Chapman in the majors during that stretch.
But his track record stretches beyond just those two years. He put up a 2.12 ERA and 2.15 FIP from 2011-2015, and even in factoring in his missed 2016 season Holland ranks seventh in strikeout rate (33.6%) the last six years, and fifth among relief pitchers with 9.8 fWAR during that span.
Holland on Monday in Arizona threw 30 pitches in two simulated innings, per Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star, who said Holland only threw fastballs and sliders.
There were “roughly 60 scouts and approximately 18 teams” represented at Holland’s workout per Joel Sherman of the New York Post, who offered this summary:
The consensus was Holland looked healthy. He threw exclusively fastballs and sliders. His fastball was mainly 89-90 mph, well short of his 95.5 mph career average. But as one scout in attendance said: “He had good extension, which suggests he is healthy. This is his fastball in November, 13 months after surgery — it will be something else in spring training. But this is the key now: What does he look like in four months? That is really what you are trying to figure out.”
Should the Dodgers take the plunge with Holland — the folks at MLB Trade Rumors projected a two-year, $18 million contract for the reliever (with the Nationals), for instance — it would at the very least reunite the closer with his former beat writer in Kansas City, now in Los Angeles, so get ready for this, or something close to it: