KC Royals: Former star closer Greg Holland returns

(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
(Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) /

A three-time All-Star reliever who helped lead the KC Royals to two straight World Series appearances has signed a one year contract to return to the city where he enjoyed the best years of his career.

It was just Monday that word surfaced suggesting General Manager Dayton Moore was so sufficiently uncomfortable with his starting rotation that the KC Royals might search elsewhere for a fifth starter.

The Royals then made a pitching move Tuesday evening, not to fill their troublesome final rotation spot, but instead to add yet another candidate to the crowded pool of hurlers vying for jobs in the shaky Kansas City bullpen. And it’s a familiar face.

Greg Holland is back with the Royals.

Holland, saver of 145 games over six seasons with the Royals and 206 in his career, signed a one-year minor league deal worth a minimum $1.25 million if he makes the club, another $1.125 million in performance incentives, an invitation to Spring Training. Although it’s a far cry from the $7 million Holland received to join the Colorado Rockies in 2017 and the $14 million the Cardinals paid him to join them a year later, it’s a chance for Holland to return to the city where he enjoyed his greatest major league run.

Holland earned his stripes as a dominating closer during the three-year club resurgence that culminated in a World Series championship in 2015. He saved a career-high 47 games in 2013, when the KC Royals made a surprising, but ultimately unsuccessful, run for their first postseason berth since 1985; saved 46 the following year as the club won the American League pennant only to suffer a heartbreaking World Series loss; and added 32 saves in 2015 before a UCL tear ended his season in late September with the Royals on the cusp of the pennant and the World Series.

Recuperation from Tommy John surgery wiped out Holland’s 2016 season but, with his closer credentials firmly established, Holland landed a free agent job with the Rockies for 2017. He pitched in 61 games for Colorado and saved 41, then left for St. Louis on another free agent deal in 2018. An injury sidelined him early in the season and the Cards released him after he went 0-2 with a 7.92 ERA in 32 games.

Holland reappeared in Washington later that season and seemed to be Holland again, posting a 0.84 ERA (510 ERA+), a 10.5 SO9, three saves, and two wins against no losses in 24 games. He was off to Arizona for 2019; despite a 10.9 SO9, he struggled with his control, averaging over six walks per nine innings, blew several saves and lost his job after 40 appearances. He pitched in the Nationals’ minor league system but never received a call to the big league club.

Suddenly a minor league free agent when the 2019 season ended, Holland needed a place to not only continue his once magical career, but also to search for the form that made him a three-time closer and one of the most effective closers in the game. Moore, never one to shy away from a pitcher in similar straits, hinted in December that the club might consider bringing Holland back.

Reuniting with Holland would, of course, make good sense only in the right circumstances, including a price commensurate with the unpredictable pitcher Holland has become. Holland would have to be inexpensive and pose little risk to the KC Royals.

In other words, it would have to be just the kind of offseason deal Moore likes to make. And he made it Tuesday.

The circumstances seem right and fit the moment–Holland is on a minor league contract, an inexpensive deal guaranteed to pay off somewhat handsomely (albeit not to the extent to which Holland has become accustomed) only if Holland makes the club. And it’s a low risk, potentially high yield reunion–if Holland fails, no younger prospect is blocked for the effort; if he succeeds, the Royals will have an established reliever who brings a solid veteran presence to their flock of young pitchers.

As with all such projects, time will tell if Moore hits pay dirt with his latest individual rebuild, and where Holland will fit in. It’s all but a given that Ian Kennedy will be moved by the July trade deadline; the Royals don’t have a clear heir apparent to his closer role. A return to form could hand Holland the job, and Trevor Rosenthal–like Holland, a former lock-down closer searching with the Royals to regain his own lost glory–might be a candidate. But Holland will have a job if he pitches well.

Next. 2020 Royals preseason review: Trevor Rosenthal. dark

Greg Holland now rejoins the team for which he formed the final cog of the Royals’ famed “HDH” bullpen machine, the shutdown trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and him. Herrera and Davis are long gone, but a chance to return to the majors comes with Holland’s reunion with the KC Royals.