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Cubs: Should the Cubs Sign Veteran Closer Greg Holland?

The Chicago Cubs made significant improvements to their bullpen this offseason, but the addition of Greg Holland could potentially give the Cubs one of the best pens' in all of baseball.

The one constant during Major League Baseball’s postseason has been solid bullpens. The Royals created a “super pen” to help them win a World Series in 2015. The Indians had one of the strongest bullpens to help reach the World Series in 2016. Of course, the Cubs had to trade for Aroldis Chapman to get to that same series, and though Chapman almost blew the series for them, he was a vital part nonetheless. When the Cubs decided not to re-sign him, an obvious hole opened up that remained open until they traded Jorge Soler to Kansas City for Wade Davis in December of 2016.

A team needs a dominant relief pitcher if they hope to have any success. The Cubs added several arms to their bullpen since the offseason began, with the biggest names being Steve Cishek, and Brandon Morrow. While each pitcher has had their fair amount of success in their careers, none of them have proved to be that absolute dominant pitcher. They have already named Morrow their closer for the 2018 season, someone with 18 saves over his career. Could these new arms prove to work well for the Cubs? Sure it is certainly possible. However, should the team look at another reliever on the market?

Greg Holland is still left unsigned after an incredibly strong year in Colorado, after coming back from Tommy John surgery prior to the 2016 season. Over his career, Holland has a 2.60 ERA, to go with 500 strikeouts over 377 innings. He has more saves than Morrow and Cishek have combined over their careers. So, why is Holland still unsigned?

Well, he turned down the qualifying offer from the Rockies. Any player who declines a qualifying offer now has draft compensation attached to any deal that he signs with another team. Teams have been wary of signing these players, especially those on the wrong side of 30. At the beginning of the offseason, nine players were given these qualifying offers. Zero of them accepted. Four players remain unsigned, with one player (Mike Moustakas) signing with the team who offered the qualifying offer in the first place.

Declining this offer can prove to be a costly mistake for Holland. Mike Moustakas, who signed with the Royals, got just 37.44 percent of the money that was offered in the qualifying offer. Holland likely won’t return to the Rockies, who signed former Cubs closer Wade Davis to a three-year deal.

Taking a deeper look at Holland’s performance in 2017, there is a lot to keep in mind when considering whether or not the Cubs should shell out the cash and draft pick for him. Overall, his numbers seem like he was an average pitcher. In 2017 he had a 3.61 ERA. That doesn’t exactly scream “dominant” reliever. Though, he did pitch in Colorado, which is considered to be very hitter friendly, he did not have eye popping numbers away from Coors Field. He gave up a total 23 earned runs in 2017, 11 at home and 12 away from Coors. His K/9 was nearly two strikeouts lower away than it was at home (11.8 versus 10.1).

Now, a lot of his struggles came in the second half. Of his 23 earned runs, 17 of them came in the second half. His batting average against jumped 60 points, with OBP against jumping 50, and slugging skyrocketing nearly 200 points in the second half. Why did Holland struggle?

His command after the first two months was pretty atrocious. He walked an alarming 18 percent of batters in June. He brought it down to a slightly less disastrous 13 percent for July. After starting out the season by striking out nearly half the batters he faced, his K-rate went down as low as 18 percent in August. Coming back from a significant arm injury, Holland saw his velocity on his fastball dip by three miles per hour in June. It increased again in August, but he was getting hit hard at that point. Can Holland bounce back from an awful second half? Sure, he’s shown signs of greatness in the past and was a part of the super bullpen that won a World Series for the Royals.

So, should the Cubs give up their second round pick for Holland? If they do, they could have a super bullpen that would rival the Yankees for one of the top bullpens in the league, a far cry from the previous campaign that saw Chicago fall to Los Angeles in the 2017 NLCS. If Wilson can rebound from a rough 2017, along with Morrow and Cishek putting up solid numbers, they can create a solid back end of the rotation that can really take a lot of pressure off of their starters.

If they don’t, their bullpen will have improved a lot over the pen from 2017, and they can still be a solid unit. Though, there is not much depth if some players get injured or struggle. Holland may not be the answer, but he is certainly someone the Cubs need to strongly consider if they want to solidify their chance at winning another National League pennant. That is, as long as Holland can return to his normal form.

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7 comments on “Cubs: Should the Cubs Sign Veteran Closer Greg Holland?

  1. It’s not just a second-round pick. If they sign him they’ll exceed the luxury tax threshold, meaning they would also lose 10 spots in draft position in the upcoming draft. Plus if they sign Harper or some other big-name FA next off-season, they’ll lose another draft pick (5th round) and $500,000 in bonus pool money, beyond the additional second-round pick, for exceeding the threshold. The Cubs signed Darvish to a much-longer-than-desirable 6-year deal to keep his AAV low enough to avoid exceeding the threshold, in preparation for next season’s FA pool. If they were willing to exceed the threshold, they would have offered Darvish a shorter deal with a higher AAV. Clearly they don’t want to exceed the threshold, so I don’t see it happening.

    • Robert Warja

      Barry, you’re right, they don’t want to exceed the luxury tax threshold, so this isn’t going to happen. However, I wish people would quit saying they are going to sign Harper – that’s not going to happen. You think they are going to devote 30 million PLUS over 7 – 10 seasons to one guy when they have Bryant who’s going to want a similar contract down the road? It’s awfully hard to compete when you have multiple 30M+ players on the roster. and given the choice, they will take their own over someone else’s player. Unless they want to continuously play way over the tax, which they do not. I love Ricketts, he brought us a title, but he doesn’t want to spend that kind of money.

      • Cheers Robert. Re: Ricketts, his primary concern is keeping the Cubs competitive year after year. Between the new upcoming TV contract and/or channel, the new hotel, the new corporate boxes, and all the other Wrigleyville investments, the Cubs will be a revenue-generating machine. The only real threat to that revenue stream is the Cubs returning to mediocrity.

        Of course that doesn’t mean the Cubs will go crazy with the payroll, since exceeding the threshold will cost them draft picks, which in turn will impact the team down the road, and in turn impact the primary mandate to keep the Cubs competitive year after year. With that mandate in mind, I think Ricketts will let Epstein spend whatever amount of money he wants, since player payroll will ultimately be dwarfed by revenues. Which brings us to Harper …

        I largely agree with you that Harper represents an asinine investment, and that the Cubs would prefer to NOT go that route. On the other hand, the Cubs have the best core group of position players in team history and one of their best pitching staffs. And it all comes to an end in 4 years (presumably). So the Cubs certainly want to maximize the chances of winning another World Series during this window.

        I think it all comes down to Heyward, Schwarber, Happ and Almora. If a Happ/Almora CF platoon proves to be effective, if Schwarber returns to form and if Heyward elevates his game to slightly better than horrible, than an investment in Harper isn’t justified. If, on the other hand, Schwarber repeats last year’s performance and Heyward continues to suck, I can’t see the Cubs hoping they can carry that dead weight to another WS. I’m optimistic Schwarber, Happ and Almora will perform well this season and that Harper won’t be needed.

        I’m less optimistic about Russell, who continues to disappoint behind the plate and can’t seem to shake injury issues. Perhaps last season was partly due to his personal issues, but the Cubs must get more offensive production from the middle of the infield. Thus, depending on how Russell does, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Cubs pursue Machado.

        We’ll see.

    • Why would they sign Harper or any other big name position player due to hit the market next year? ESPECIALLY if Schwarber proves he’s the real deal this year (which I think is a strong possibility…. dudes don’t just rake in the minors and in the MLB postseason and turn out to be busts…. at worst he’s the next Adam Dunn….. I’ll take an early 20s version of Adam Dunn). If Schwarber just hits .250 with a .350 OBP and bashes 35-40 HRs if not more (had 30 in just over 400 ABs last year….. in 550 ABs that translates to 40 on the nose) and Ian Happ builds off last year and takes a firm grasp on that CF position that pretty much locks up the entire OF for the next 5 years at least with Heyward and his $$$ in RF and Almora who is no bum himself as being the 4th OFer who can play all 3 OF positions at a fairly high level….. and can also hit with the best of them himself (I see Happ playing almost every day in CF and Almora platooning with Heyward in RF….. or Happ sliding to RF and Almora taking CF but effectively platooning with Heyward). Then on the IF they have Bryant, Russell, Baez, Rizzo, and Contreras….. 3 of those 5 are arguably the best at their positions in not only the NL but all of baseball…. if not THE best definitely in the top 2 or 3, those being Bryant, Rizzo, and Contreras. Baez is no bum at 2B himself. How many 2Bmen are out there with 25 HR potential who can also hit for a decent average and also play GG caliber defense? Only weakness is his OBP skills. Russell has toiled away with the most unfortunate luck possibly in MLB since his debut. He was a .300/.380 BA/OBP guy in the minors….. he could hit. In the majors so far though he only has a .240 BA….. but his BABIP is right around .300. The Cubs have another player who has a similar BABIP in the same timeframe since Russell debuted….. but his BA in that span has been about .280….. that dude is Rizzo. So either Russell continues to hit insanely well below his BABIP or his luck turns around eventually and he becomes the .270+ hitter we all thought he’d be. And with that 30 point bump in BA you can expect a similar bump in OBP. If that were to happen a .270 hitter with a .350 OBP who also has power and solid base running wits about him…. sounds like we might have a solid lead off hitter. Andrelton Simmons toiled away in ATL for about 4-5 years before getting shipped off to LA. He was about a .250 hitter with an OBP I don’t think even cracking .300. Since the move to LA though he either got better at hitting or the cards started falling his way because he’s been about a .280 hitter with a more respectable .320ish OBP ever since the move. Some players just take more time…… maybe…… hopefully this is Russell’s breakout year. If it is…… they most DEFINITELY don’t need to sign a big name FA position player next year.

      As for them exceeding the luxury tax threshold if they sign Holland? Would they? Last I checked they were about $12M under the threshold. With Boras’ clients all signing WEEEEELLLLLLL below expectations mlbtraderumors and other outlets think Holland can be had on a 1 year pact for only $7-10M on that deal. Pretty sure if that’s the case they’d still be under that threshold if just barely. Yeah…. just checked baseball reference. They’re projected payroll for the Cubs including all pre-arb players is estimated to be at $183.6M. $11.4M under the threshold. If they can land Holland on an identical deal they gave Davis last year, 1 year and $10M, they’d still be under the “cap” so to speak. Also, if they were to sign him there bullpen would just be flat out ridiculously disgusting. Holland, Morrow, Strop, Edwards, Cishek, Montgomery, Wilson, Duensing….. good gawd man. That to go with that already lethal offense (been ranking in the top 4 each of the last two years) that could be even MORE lethal if Schwarber and Russell put it all together and Happ builds off of last year and puts together a full season’s worth of ABs. Not to mention a rotation of Lester, Hendricks, Darvish, Quintana, and Chatwood…… that is one hell of an imposing team from top to bottom. Ha, and their bench would be full of potential starters on any other team. Almora, La Stella, Zobrist, and Caratini. Holland who proved he is still a lights out closer in COLORADO of all places…. where pitchers go to die, would just push them over the top. The “weakness” if you can call it that, at least on paper, would be…. their rotation? I guess? Maybe? And that’s only because of the question, was Lester’s performance last year a fluke or signs of rapid aging and decline? Can Hendricks stay healthy all year and avoid a weird hand injury in 2018? Can Darvish put it all back together 2 years removed from TJ surgery? Can Quintana get back to pitching like the Quintana of pre-2017 seasons? With Chatwood stay healthy ALL year for once in his career and will he be any good now that he is out of pitcher hell, Colorado? Those questions though can be said about most teams’ rotations though. No team is worry-free rotation-wise. If everyone just pitches to their career numbers (in Chatwood’s case… career numbers AWAY from Coors Field) this rotation is THE BEST in major league baseball….. no debating it. Chatwood would be the worst one but if he pitches to his career Away numbers outside of Coors field that’s a 5th starter with an ERA around 3.60….. yeah. A bullpen with Holland in it would give them about 5-6 guys who have closed games before in the past or have the stuff to close games out. Another way to put it is they’d have 5-6 guys in their pen that have set-up man quality stuff…. or better (closer stuff). Those guys being Holland, Morrow, Strop, Edwards, Cishek, and Wilson? If Wilson can reign in some control he most definitely has closer stuff. When he’s on he’s been comped to Andrew Miller.

      Do they need to add Holland? No….. not yet at least. I am a little uneasy about having Morrow as “the guy” though. he’s battled injuries his whole career and before last year was viewed as a lost cause. It takes more than 1 season of solid reliever work for me to be sold on a guy. Of course I HOPE he’s as dominant as he was last year….. but I’m not 100% convinced. Holland is just about as close to a sure thing you can get though, and if he can be had for $10M if not less….. you’re stupid if you don’t get him. Holland had 1 bad month last year. Outside of that he was pitching better than Davis did last year and Davis arguably had the best year of his career last year. How long did he go without blowing a save? In the other 5 months Holland was pure dominance. He posted a 1.68 ERA and had 38 saves. Yes please. He played for $6M last year, so a 1 year $10M deal is still a pay raise. He could take it. Offering it hurts no one.

      • My god you have to much damn time on your hands.. get a hobby

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