The justified hand-wringing over this year’s free-agent class has been the story of the offseason. Are the teams colluding? Maybe, but out-and-out collusion seems a tad far-fetched. Have front offices become too similar in their thinking and valuation? Yeah, probably. Did the cream of the 2017 free-agent crop have flaws big enough to warrant trepidation from potential suitors? Most definitely.
All of that is fine and good and true; complex questions like this usually have nuanced, multi-faceted answers. But before we felt the tension boil over in a stalemate between teams and players, almost all of the prominent available relievers had been snapped-up early in the free-agent process, with most finding a home at the Winter Meetings. The notable exception was Greg Holland, who still hasn’t signed.
Not only is Greg Holland still unsigned, but if you Google his name, the most recent article on his availability was written over a week ago. (Here you go, it links him potentially to the Angels, among others.)
What’s the hold up with Greg Holland? Why is he among the free-agents still looking for work while most of his relief-pitching brethren enjoy a full spring training with their new teams? Here’s a list of all of the relievers who signed this off-season for multiple years and at least $10 million total.
Prominent Free-Agent RP Signings (2017-18 Offseason)
|Wade Davis||Rockies||3||$52 M||$17.33 M|
|Mike Minor||Rangers||3||$28 M||$9.33 M|
|Jake McGee||Rockies||3||$27 M||$9 M|
|Bryan Shaw||Rockies||3||$27 M||$9 M|
|Brandon Morrow||Cubs||2||$21 M||$10.5 M|
|Tommy Hunter||Phillies||2||$18 M||$9 M|
|Juan Nicasio||Mariners||2||$17 M||$8.5 M|
|Addison Reed||Twins||2||$16.75 M||$8.38 M|
|Pat Neshek||Phillies||2||$16.25 M||$8.13 M|
|Joe Smith||Astros||2||$15 M||$7.5 M|
|Anthony Swarzak||Mets||2||$14 M||$7 M|
|Steve Cishek||Cubs||2||$13 M||$6.5 M|
|Luke Gregerson||Cardinals||2||$11 M||$5.5 M|
|Brandon Kintzler||Nationals||2||$10 M||$5 M|
|Yusmeiro Petit||Athletics||2||$10 M||$5 M|
Wade Davis was always going to get this offseason’s biggest relief contract. Despite his rising walk rate and falling velocity, he was clearly the best option available. And yet, Davis was still only able to muster a three-year deal. Apart from Davis there were plenty of solid relief options, but none were what you might consider “elite” — Holland included.
This is a website that typically dives deeply into a player’s performance, but a look at some surface numbers shows why it was absolutely insane for Greg Holland to decline the qualifying offer received from the Rockies worth $17.4 million for one year. A look at a graph of his 15-game rolling average of both ERA and FIP last season paints a clear picture of how Holland’s 2017 transpired. It takes a lot more than ERA and FIP to evaluate a pitcher, but this is a nice snapshot of his season in the macro sense.
If Holland’s performance hadn’t gone in the tank in the last third of the season he might well have been able to approach Wade Davis money (or at least get closer than anyone else). But one year removed from Tommy John surgery, Holland saw his numbers crater as the 2017 season advanced. Erstwhile FanGraphs Managing Editor Dave Cameron wrote about Holland’s struggles in late-August and attributed them to a decline of both velocity and command. The lasting memory of Holland as he hit free agency was that of a pitcher struggling.
He really should have taken that qualifying offer.
Earlier this offseason Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs posited a theory that teams might be wary of signing Jake Arrieta due to the perceived lack of interest from the Cubs. They are the club that knew him best and if they were reticent to bring him back, it could indicate that they have some damning proprietary information that the 29 other clubs aren’t privy to. Now consider that three of the four largest reliever contracts this offseason were given out by the Rockies, Holland’s former team. As with Sullivan’s theory on Arrieta and the Cubs, the Rockies clear intention to spend money on their bullpen combined with a seeming lack of interest in Holland does raise some red flags.
There is a wrinkle to this theory, one that potentially renders it null and void. Both Jake Arrieta and Greg Holland are represented by Scott Boras. As the most outspoken and influential agent in baseball, Boras is often accused of overplaying his hand. Sometimes his refusal to budge and willingness to participate in a standoff pays dividends, as it seems to have with Eric Hosmer, who signed a nine-figure deal despite reportedly having only a couple of interested suitors, but other times, it does not work out well. With regard to Holland, there were so many solid middle relief options available this year that it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that any team wanting to spend money on their bullpen has already done so, leaving Holland outside looking in, late in the off-season.
Someone will sign Greg Holland, it will likely be a two or three year deal worth in the neighborhood of seven to ten million dollars per year (if we’re reading the tea leaves based on what everyone else has signed for). It’s so late in the offseason that there’s also a reasonable chance Holland could sign a one-year pillow contract and try to rebuild his value for next offseason, but in that scenario Holland’s future value tanks even further if his late-season swoon carries into 2018. It’s a sizable risk for him to take.
When Scott Boras’ back is against the wall it’s still hard to bet against him. His track record makes it hard to fathom a scenario where Holland doesn’t find a job. Even if it’s after the season has started Boras will likely find his client a landing spot with decent contract terms, teams always need good relief help. Still, Holland’s failure to sign until after all of the other viable relief options have been snapped up will likely cost him dearly in the end.
Greg Holland REALLY should have taken that qualifying offer.
Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.