KC Royals Wish List: For Greg Holland, a great encore

(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images) /

Today’s KC Royals holiday wish is for a key reliever to have a second straight excellent season.

Happy Holidays and welcome back to Kings of Kauffman’s “KC Royals Wish List” series. For the 12 days leading up to Christmas, our writers are sharing their holiday wishes for the Royals. Whether they’re more offseason improvements, success in 2021, or hope for the future, anything could be in store. Today, our wish is for Greg Holland.

It’s been five years since the KC Royals won the 2015 World Series, a feat they owed in no small part to Greg Holland. Although a torn UCL and Tommy John surgery ended his regular season in its final week and knocked him out of the playoffs, Holland pitched through pain the entire campaign and saved 32 games for the American league pennant winners.

It’s also been five years since the Royals decided to non-tender Holland only two months after they won that magical Series. Rooted in the hard business of baseball, the move saved the club from having to pay Holland for the year he’d need to rehabilitate his valuable elbow, but didn’t fit well in the otherwise euphoric Kansas City postseason.

Holland didn’t return to the Royals in 2017, heading instead for Colorado to pitch for the Rockies. It was there he had his best post-Tommy John season with a National League-leading 41 saves and major league-leading 58 games finished. Holland suffered through a miserable 2018 season with St. Louis (0-2, 7.92 ERA and no saves in 32 games) before capping the campaign with an encouraging 2-0, 0.84 and three saves in 24 appearances with Washington. Although 2019 started well for him with the Diamondbacks, he slumped and was released.

The Royals rolled the dice last offseason on two once-great relievers in disrepair—Trevor Rosenthal was one, Holland the other—and the risks paid off handsomely. Rosenthal started 2020 as the club’s closer and Holland pitched well in a primarily late-inning role, then regained his old job at the back of the pen when KC traded Rosenthal to San Diego in late August.

And Holland continued to look like the old Holland. He finished with a 28-game 3-0, 1.91 ERA record, struck out almost 10 batters every nine innings, and harnessed the haunting control problems he’d had since 2015 with a 2.2 BB9. The performance was, by far, Holland’s best after his season with the Rockies.

Although Rosenthal probably won’t be back, it always seemed as though Holland would. Now it’s happened—Holland is returning to Kansas City on a one-year bargain deal worth a reported $2.75 million.

Now, a year removed from signing a minor league deal in hopes of putting his pitching house back in order, the 10-year major league veteran is Kansas City’s presumptive 2021 closer, a 35-year old reliever who last season rediscovered the form that helped propel the Royals to two straight World Series. Any ill feelings about how his first Kansas City story ended, if any even ever existed (which seems doubtful) are clearly well in the past; any fences that may have required mending are mended, and Holland is a Royal through and through.

He deserves the best.

Our holiday wish for Greg Holland is to have every bit of the success next season that he had in 2020. (And a little bit more wouldn’t hurt).

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Greg Holland had a great comeback season for the Royals in 2020. Here’s hoping he’s even better next year.