St. Louis Cardinals: Wherefore art thou, Greg Holland?

JUPITER, FL - MARCH 11: An announced crowd of over 6,000 fans watch the Atlanta Braves play the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training baseball game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 11, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
JUPITER, FL - MARCH 11: An announced crowd of over 6,000 fans watch the Atlanta Braves play the St. Louis Cardinals during a spring training baseball game at Roger Dean Stadium on March 11, 2017 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images) /

Jon Heyman recently reported that both the Arizona Diamondbacks and Atlanta Braves may have interest in the closer Greg Holland. While the Braves are rebuilding, the Dbacks are in a similar position to the St. Louis Cardinals, looking up at the Los Angeles Dodgers as we are to the Chicago Cubs.

So it’s fair to ask, why don’t the St. Louis Cardinals and the Diamondbacks have similar interest? If Jon Heyman reports that the Diamondbacks and Braves may have interest in Greg Holland, why not the Cardinals too?

The St. Louis Cardinals have made clear they’re content with their bullpen on a number of occasions. They like their acquisition of Luke Gregerson in that slot, and they see potential for Dominic Leone, acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays in the Randal Grichuk deal, for the game-end appearances as well.

It’s great that the St. Louis Cardinals have a stacked bullpen. There’s lots of talent, both experienced and relatively new. But what there is not is a guy who has been a closer over a number of years, with reliability and predictability.

Holland took some knocks last year for his performance, but in actuality, after a fairly cursory inspection of his season, he was lights out for five of the six months of the season.

Don’t believe me? Here are his monthlies other than his dreadful August, listing ERA, Ks/BBs, HRs, and WHIP.

March/April: 1.50, 13/5, 0, 1.00

May: 1.17, 15/1, 1, .522

June: 1.69, 12/8, 0, 1.31

July: 2.25, 10/4, 1, 1.25

Sept/Oct: 1.86, 12/2, 1,  .621

Other than the elevated walks in June, not much to complain about, right?

Moreover, his overall OPS against for the year away from Coors was .600. Very, very decent.  By way of comparison, Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers closer, had a .604 OPS on the road. And Holland was actually better against lefties than righties last year, overcoming another criticism often reserved for second-tier closers.

No one here is saying that Holland matches with Craig Kimbrel or Kenley Jansen. But there’s also no comparison between what the market is for Holland versus guys of that caliber, either.

Holland reportedly rejected a three-year deal in excess of $50 million early in the offseason, shunning his 2017 team, the Colorado Rockies, in favor of what he thought would be greener pastures. Then the market died, and after the Rockies signed Wade Davis, Holland was left orphaned, a man without a team.

His name has been associated with many teams all off-season, including the most recent Braves-Dbacks rumors, but for seemingly everyone in baseball but the Cardinals front office, St. Louis has continued to be mentioned with regularity.

And it makes sense. Leone is untested in the role.  Gregerson seemed more comfortable in runner-up innings than the ninth. The team never appears serious about promoting Sam Tuivailala to the ninth. And the foolishly-signed Bud Norris is nothing but a crapshoot.

With Holland, one gets serious closing chops. Yes, we can acknowledge flaws, but some have said that Holland is only marginally better than what the St. Louis Cardinals have. My answer to that would be: So?

Think of it this way: If Holland comes in and delivers in the ninth as is the most likely outcome, no one, team or fans, would be disappointed. The few cries that another closer might be capable of doing the same thing would be dampened and mostly ignored.

If Holland struggled, yes, there could be risk. But the team took far more risk when it spent $30 million on a middle-relief Brett Cecil, didn’t it? Not because of their expectations for Cecil, which went largely unfulfilled the first year he was here, but because the four-year deal was pretty hefty for a middle reliever.

Yet this year, with the 25-man payroll at a highly reasonable $124 million (another $17 million is owed to former Cards pitcher Mike Leake), and brand-new revenues from the Fox Sports Midwest local contract and Disney national one, a Holland acquisition hardly seems exorbitant.

None of us knows what Holland and his agent will command, but at least two of the three potential scenarios seem like they would satisfy the Cards.

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One would be a single-year pillow contract at a reasonably high rate (say, eg, $16M). This could happen if Holland wants to re-enter the market after 2018. The Cardinals would have the deal burn off after one year, so the risk factor is minimal. It could also be combined with a team option.

Another would be a multi-year deal at somewhere above the market pegged by Addison Reed‘s two-year, $17 million deal with the Minnesota Twins. Since Holland is a more accomplished closer and arguably a better pitcher, a two-year deal at $22-$25 million would not be unreasonable. An $11-12 million commitment for 2018 would keep the payroll in a very reasonable range.

The only scenario in which Holland might be a serious stretch is if he’s clinging to both the years and the salary he was offered by the Rockies.  Certainly he and Scott Boras could hold out for same, but the chances of such a deal are dwindling; we’re less than two weeks from the season’s start, and this game of chicken they’re playing is likely to have diminishing returns.

Holland could be happy here for a couple years, or even one. That scenario would give the team comfort when all its other pieces have come together and while they audition their other resources by handing them the occasional ninth inning. Almost no team regularly gives their closer three games in a row, so natural opportunities surface even for teams with the most stalwart closers around.

Next: Ideal Roster Additions

The Cards would do well to pick up on this chance for a solidly top-dozen finisher. Slotting down who they already have to the previous innings would shorten the games even more for the Redbirds. With a highly talented Chicago Cubs team ahead of them, every small advantage is of the utmost importance.