Big-money free-agent signings in late March aren’t all that common, but the Cardinals pulled one off exactly two years ago. In hindsight, they probably wish it wouldn’t have happened. On March 31, 2018, the Cardinals added right-handed reliever Greg Holland on a one-year, $14MM contract. Holland was supposed to solidify the back end of the Cards’ bullpen, a unit that lost then-standout Trevor Rosenthal to Tommy John surgery late in the previous season. Instead, though, Holland endured a woeful few months as a Cardinal, didn’t finish the season in their uniform and has seen a once-great career continue to go downhill since then.
Holland entered free agency off a nice 2017 showing in Colorado, where he led the National League in saves (41) and logged a 3.61 ERA/3.72 FIP with 10.99 K/9 and 4.08 BB/9 over 57 1/3 innings. Not dominant numbers overall, but Holland picked up his third All-Star nod and was quite strong outside of a couple of blowups. Plus, the fact that it was his first action after a serious injury made his production look even better.
Holland’s best known for putting up excellent numbers in Kansas City from 2011-15, and he was close to untouchable during the Royals’ pennant-winning 2014 campaign. The decline began after that, though, as Holland suffered a torn right ulnar collateral ligament that ended his 2015 season in September. The injury prevented him from aiding the Royals in their run to a World Series championship that fall, forced Holland to undergo Tommy John and then caused him to sit out all of the next season.
Both the Rockies and the Cards were clearly impressed by the post-surgery Holland in 2017. He turned down his half of a $15MM mutual option after the season, but the Rockies then issued him a $17.4MM qualifying offer. Holland also said no to that, which may have been a mistake; however, expectations were that he’d beat that guarantee on the open market. MLBTR forecast a four-year, $50MM guarantee for Holland, but it turns out that he was not among the several free-agent relievers that winter who found a lucrative multiyear contracts (former Royals bullpen mate Wade Davis, who took Holland’s place in Colorado, led the way). Unfortunate for Holland, but considering the way his career has gone since then, the rest of the league’s teams dodged a bullet.
Because he didn’t sign until a couple days after the Cardinals’ season began, Holland did not have the benefit of a normal spring training. He took a bit of time to ramp up and then debuted with St. Louis on April 9, which proved to be his first of several poor outings with the club. Holland took the loss in that game after walking four of the five batters he faced. Walks were an all-too-common problem throughout Holland’s brief run as a Cardinal, as he wound up posting an extremely unusual and hideous line consisting of a 7.92 ERA with 7.92 K/9 and 7.92 BB/9. Holland never even registered a save for the club, which cut ties with him on Aug. 1, 2018, and ate almost $5MM in the process. To worsen the blow for the Cardinals, because Holland was a QO recipient, they had to cough up their second-round pick in 2018 and $500K of international money for inking him.
To his credit, Holland quickly rebounded from his abysmal Cards career. He closed 2018 in outstanding fashion as a member of the Nationals, with whom he recorded an almost flawless 0.84 ERA in 21 1/3 innings. Holland couldn’t follow that up in 2019, however, as he ended up with mediocre stats as a Diamondback. And they, like the Cardinals a year before them, designated Holland for assignment before the season concluded.
The 34-year-old Holland is now once again looking to rebound, this time back in his old Kansas City stomping grounds after the Royals reunited with him on a minor league contract in January. Perhaps Holland will revive his career either in KC or elsewhere in 2020, but the fact that he settled for a non-guaranteed deal two years after receiving such a sizable payday shows how far he has fallen.