Among reports and rumors swirling around baseball’s annual Winter Meetings is the word that the Kansas City Royals may consider bringing home a former closer.
Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, where team executives gather each December to talk and make trades, court and sign free agents, and discuss the state of the game, convened Sunday and are proceeding at full throttle. Rumors about the Kansas City Royals have centered on Whit Merrifield, the versatile star coveted by many, while chances of the club signing any major free agents or swinging any momentous trades remain low.
On Wednesday, however, word surfaced that surely turned a few heads. Jeffrey Flanagan, the Kansas City beat writer for mlb.com, reported on Twitter than KC General Manager Dayton Moore is “open” to considering bringing home former closer Greg Holland, saying:
Precisely what “open to exploring a reunion” means in general manager-speak is, of course, open to speculation. Is Moore saying the Royals are actually considering a reunion with their once-great closer? Does Moore mean he’ll listen closely if Holland’s representatives call? Or does he simply mean he’s willing to think about Holland if and when the subject presents itself in more substantive form?
Although Holland has suffered more hard times than good since injury sidelined him in 2015 and his subsequent departure for free agency, Moore is likely giving more than passing thought to reuniting with Holland. Holland’s history with the franchise, and at least some vintage Hollandesque performances since he left, merit such consideration.
Holland was the ninth-inning closing piece of the Royals’ indispensable “HDH” bullpen trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Holland during the club’s back-to-back World Series runs in 2014 and 2015. He saved 78 games over those campaigns and 145 in his six years with the club.
Although injuries have since prevented Holland from consistently maintaining the lock-down form of his Kansas City years, he’s provided more than rare glimpses of that form since he left. In 2017, his first season back from the 2015 injury that marred his final Royals’ days, Holland saved 41 games for Colorado and struck out 71 in 61 innings. His 2018 season started slowly after he signed a free agent deal with St. Louis just before Opening Day; he didn’t improve after a hip injury sidelined him and the Cards released him in July.
Washington picked him up in August and Holland was the Holland of old, going 2-0 with 25 strikeouts and a 0.84 ERA in 21.1 innings. That success carried over with Arizona for a few weeks in 2019; then, control mysteriously gone awry and a series of blown saves led to his release. He returned to the Nationals’ organization but never made it out of the minors. Once one of the game’s best closers, he is now a minor league free agent.
Do Holland’s history with the Royals and performance peaks of his last three seasons outweigh the valleys of his post-KC career and warrant at least some consideration for a return to the club? For a team with a strong, stable bullpen, the answer would be “No;” for the Royals, a team with a relief corps in disarray and a closer (Ian Kennedy) entering the final year of his contract and sure to be traded by July, the answer is probably “Yes.”
But as discussed recently in this space, fitting Holland into the KC pen may not be easy. Younger relievers physically unburdened by past injuries abound. Kyle Zimmer may finally have shaken his own injury plague and deserves a long, hard look in 2020. There is talk of Danny Duffy moving to the pen. And Kennedy is the closer until he loses the job or is traded.
But signing Holland to a minor league deal with an invitation to Spring Training could be a good move — after all, the Royals recently did the same thing with veteran closer Trevor Rosenthal, and Moore likes reclamation projects. Holland’s best moments since leaving the Royals reflect the ability he still has; if he’s healthy, Holland could help stabilize KC’s pen. Mentorship, leadership, and a steady on-field and clubhouse veteran presence. These are things Holland could bring and Moore covets, and they might serve the Kansas City rebuild well.
In the end, the Kansas City Royals aren’t likely to pay what Holland probably wants. But he also isn’t likely to find a mega-deal anywhere. There are strong signs Holland can still pitch, and the club desperately needs pitching. If Moore and the Royals are “open” to a Holland return, he and the club should at least sit down and talk.