After a workout on Monday, the Washington Nationals, and other teams, are looking at ex-closer Greg Holland.
The former closer for the Kansas City Royals held a workout for interested teams earlier this week and, despite a fastball without as much zip, Washington remains a team in the running.
A season-plus removed from Tommy John surgery, Holland topped out in the low-90s on the radar gun. In his prime, he reached 96 with ease. As his conditioning comes back, the speed will increase. In most cases, pitchers recovering from TJ match their pre-surgery velocity.
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What is clear as the Nats and others check to see how Holland fits into their 2017 plans is he will not close games. Instead, agent Scott Boras hopes Holland fill the new role of “HeLP” pitcher.
After the success of Cleveland’s Andrew Miller in the postseason, along with Los Angeles’ Kenley Jansen or the champion Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman, having a high-level premium pitcher able to score needed outs in the middle inning is essential. Boras and Holland hope so.
Although the repeated innings of multiple use, as we saw with Miller, will not happen every night, teams will experiment as Indians manager Terry Francona did. Teams will try using a former closer two-three times a week to get over an inning of nervous work. Like the fireman of old, a pitcher like Holland could pitch the sixth and seventh while the traditional closer throws the ninth.
When told by Boras that his client will take an incentive-laden shorter contract, Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo told the Washington Post:
"“Those are usually deals that are heavily incentivized because if he pitches like Holland, he should be compensated for it. But you also have to balance it off with the risk that the guy’s coming off Tommy John, didn’t pitch at all last year, and we’ve never seen him throw a pitch in anger since he’s come back. So you’re really going on track record, medical reports and what the doctor said. It’s a risky proposition.”"
And that is where things get tricky for the Nats.
In need of a closer with Mark Melancon on the free agent market, and with no internal candidate ready to take over now, signing Holland does not fill the role on paper. Whether it is Melancon, or someone else, Washington will still need to spend over $10 million a year additional for a proper closer.
Holland will turn 31 before next season. If healthy, he can perform at a high-level wherever he lands.
As Rizzo says, spending nearly $9 million a year—even with the bulk in incentives—and that much or more on a proper closer, is risky. Probably worth a pass.