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.