Royals bring back Holland with Spring Training invite

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Photo by Orlin Wagner/AP Images

The Kansas City Royals will welcome back another familiar face in addition to Alex Gordon, as it was reported late Tuesday night that Greg Holland will also be making his return to the organization, albeit on a minor league contract with an invite to Spring Training. Assuming Holland makes the Major League roster, he will have a $1.25 million contract.

Holland represents a winning era in Royals history, as he is currently fourth on the Royals’ all-time saves list, only behind greats Joakim Soria, Dan Quisenberry, and Jeff Montgomery with 148. After securing a bullpen spot after putting up a 1.80 ERA in 46 games in 2011, Holland went on to appear in 65 or more games in the next three seasons, and was an all-star in 2013 and 2014 for the Royals. He also won the 2014 Mariano Rivera Reliever of the Year award, but his 2015 campaign was cut short due to a UCL injury that eventually led to him missing the postseason and undergoing Tommy John Surgery.

After his surgery, Holland sat out all of 2016, but won the 2017 National League Comeback Player of the Year award with the Colorado Rockies when he led the Senior Circuit in saves, with 41, while also pitching in his second postseason. He also had brief stints with the St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals, and Arizona Diamondbacks. His signing with the Cardinals for 2018 ended up being disastrous, as he pitched to a whopping 7.92 ERA in 32 games. He had a stark rebound later that season that saw him pitch to a 0.84 ERA and a 510 ERA+ in Washington.

The deal Holland signed is a minor league contract that includes an invitation to Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona. The Royals have also given one of these contracts to former Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal, who similarly also had Tommy John Surgery, and Braden Shipley, who pitched parts of three seasons for the Diamondbacks. Holland will be battling for a spot in a Royals bullpen that was downright atrocious last year, and if he makes the team, will likely be vying for a spot to setup for closer Ian Kennedy.

This signing is much more than a nostalgia trip, as some fans have already suggested; though Holland had a 4.54 ERA with the Diamondbacks last year, he looked like he had nearly regained his all-star form in the first half of the season. He did not allow a run during the month of April, only letting a runner cross the plate in his 12th game of the year on May 3. Even then, he kept his ERA well below 2.00 well into June. After that, however, Holland seemingly went into a deep downward spiral, as in the 17 games he pitched in from June 20 to August 5, he allowed as many runs as innings he pitched (13), giving him a mediocre 9.00 ERA in that time. This led to his release four days after his last game with them.

Another concerning issue is the regressing velocity on his pitches. During 2018, Holland averaged nearly 93 mph on his fastball, over 86 mph on his slider, and over 78 with his curveball. In 2019, he saw an alarming drop for all three pitches, averaging 91.6, 84.3, and 77.5 for those pitches, respectively. Though it may not be statistically relevant, he threw one changeup in each of those seasons, throwing it 86.6 mph in 2018, while slipping down to 83.8 mph in its lone appearance in 2019. More interestingly, he seems to have completely ditched the use of his splitter, as according to Statcast, he hasn’t thrown one in a Major League game since 2015.

In more of a sartorial issue than anything else, Holland will most likely reclaim his iconic No. 56 as his jersey number, as not only is that what he wore during his first stint as a Royal, it also is what he wore during his tenures with the Rockies, Cardinals, Nationals, and Diamondbacks. This means that staff ace Brad Keller will be forced to get a new number, as he has worn No. 56 for the first two seasons of his career.

Holland was part of the vaunted “HDH” bullpen trio from 2014-2015 that included two of the best setup men in baseball, Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis. In that time period, the three pitched to a miniscule 1.77 ERA and effectively closed down games by the seventh inning of games. The three were arguably the most important part of the 2014 pennant run and 2015 World Series championship.

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