Just over one year ago, Royals righty Greg Holland told Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star that he was open to a long-term deal, and the All-Star closer hasn’t changed his tune even after getting a year closer to free agency. Holland told McCullough yesterday that he hopes the Royals’ interest in an extension is still present, because he remains amenable to working out a new deal to keep him in Kansas City beyond 2016 — his final year of team control.
However, as was the case in 2014, there was little discussion of an extension in arbitration, as the two sides focused primarily on his 2015 salary. (Holland agreed to a one-year, $8.25MM pact.) However, he acknowledged that he understood the Royals had quite a bit of work to do on the free agent market this year, especially when losing a pitcher the caliber of James Shields. “And then I feel like that arbitration thing sneaks up on you, so you want to just get something done so both sides can just move on and get ready for spring training,” Holland continued.
A long-term deal for Holland figures to come with a significant price tag. Another strong season could push his arbitration salary upwards of $12MM, and as David Robertson’s four-year, $46MM contract showed this offseason, teams are more than willing to pay top dollar for premium relievers on the open market. Holland compares favorably with Robertson, Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman as one of baseball’s very best relievers, though he has a longer track record of accumulating saves than Robertson did when entering free agency. In fact, over the past two years, Holland has been statistically superior to Kimbrel, who is believed by many to be baseball’s top closer.
Kimbrel signed a four-year, $42MM contract extension last winter with a club option that could push the deal’s value to $54MM over five years. A long-term deal for Holland may very well have to top that number, as Holland is a year closer to free agency and already earning significantly more than Kimbrel was at the time of his signing.
Needless to say, it’s uncertain whether or not the Royals can afford to spend that type of money on a reliever — particularly when they’re already spending heavily on setup man Wade Davis, who earns $7MM in 2015. Fellow setup man Kelvin Herrera will also begin to see his salary rise, though not substantially until the 2017 season, as he agreed to a two-year, $4.15MM pact this winter.
Holland’s rising price tag has led many to speculate that he could eventually be traded, particularly because Davis’ salaries for the next few seasons are controlled via club options. Kansas City can exercise an $8MM club option for the 2016 season and a $10MM option for the 2017 season. That’s significantly less money than Holland will make, barring some form of injury. Holland told McCullough that he does believe both sides want to work something out, but he acknowledged that baseball is a business, and that the Royals have a lot of money invested in the bullpen as it is. “[I]t’s a fine line to get both sides happy and to feel comfortable,” Holland said.