Crammed inside Greg Holland’s Coors Field locker are the usual items of a baseball player. What appear to be at least 25 shirts/undershirts, about a dozen or so pairs of sneakers/cleats, six or seven gloves and a packet of sunflower seeds. Nowhere to be seen, however, is a dartboard with a Kansas City Royals logo on it.
“No, it’s not like that,” said the Colorado Rockies’ Holland, when asked if he holds anything against the team that drafted him, nurtured him into the big leagues but then cut him loose when arm troubles surfaced after the 2015 season. “It’s very hard to play your entire career with one team, much less as a reliever, because. … the price tag can get too high at times.”
If there was one player candidate as someone who might stay with the same team his whole career, it might have been Holland with the Royals. Drafted by Kansas City in the 10th round (306th overall) in 2007, Holland overcame a shaky 2010 rookie season to become one of the dominant closers in the game over the next few years, making the American League All-Star team in 2013 and 2014 and converting 93-of-98 save opportunities for the Royals. When elbow troubles started late in the 2015 season, he pitched through considerable pain to help get the Royals back into the postseason before not being able to go on anymore. While he earned a World Series ring with Kansas City in 2015, it remains bittersweet, as Wade Davis – not Holland – got the final out in the Royals’ World Series victory over the New York Mets.
When it became clear Holland would need off-season Tommy John surgery to his right elbow, and entering an arbitration year that would have put the Royals on the hook for a salary near $10 million, the Royals chose not to offer him a contract. After being a key player in the Royals’ rise to prominence after so many years in the wilderness, Holland suddenly had no team, no income and an arm that many wondered if it had been pitched out for good.
After becoming accustomed to the good life of major league stardom, Holland admits it was a bumpy transition to a life of uncertainty.
“You kind of get used to (the good life), you know? There were times when you’d get a flight delay and you were like, ‘oh what the hell?'” Holland said. “You get accustomed to that environment. (After the surgery), it gives you a better appreciation for how fortunate you are to play baseball for a living. Before I had surgery, there were times where I had to look in the mirror and be like, ‘hey, you’re getting to do something really cool for a living.’
Make no mistake, Holland is living the good life again with the Rockies. Tuesday night saw him close out the San Diego Padres in a 9-7 victory, his 30th save in 31 save opportunities. He pitched at this month’s All-Star Game as a Rockie. With a fastball back into the mid-90s and a new-and-improved slider, Holland is back to being the most dominant closer in baseball for a team headed to a probable NL Wild Card spot.
Oh, and the Kansas City Royals? Well, recent reports say they’re out there looking for bullpen help. If Holland has any feeling of schadenfreude toward his former team, he’s not saying it publicly.
“It’s just part of the business. Changes are made,” said Holland, whose 30 saves are the most in baseball. “And I think people in that (Royals) organization would tell you they’re happy that I’m healthy again and pitching on a good team.”
Holland, 31, a native of Marion, N.C., signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Rockies in January, after sitting out the full 2016 season. Before getting the offer from Colorado, Holland gave a November showcase of sorts to coaches and executives from 15 teams on a quiet field in Phoenix. His fastball didn’t exceed 91 mph, a concern to many teams that had seen him throw in several miles per hour faster with the Royals.
But the Rockies, whose pitching coach, Steve Foster, was in the same role with Kansas City when Holland broke in as a rookie in 2010, believed Holland could thrive again in Denver.
“We talked to Greg early in (the) process, and Greg reached out to us too. In most cases in free agency, there’s a mutual attraction,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen statistically, but we knew the guy we were getting. I knew that. We don’t feel we got over on anybody in that regard. I don’t even want to say I’m surprised at the performance, because this guy’s good. He was good before this, but you never know how things are going to play out after a Tommy John, but he’s done great work and it’s not surprising once I’ve gotten to know him and what he’s all about.”
Holland’s four-seam fastball has exceed 95 mph this season, but his biggest out pitch has been a devastating slider, made all the more deceptive to hitters by his unorthodox fall-away motion to the left side. Besides being on a rising, young team probably headed to at least the Wild Card play-in game, the golf-loving, fisherman-in-his-spare-time Holland is enjoying the heck out of the Colorado outdoors lifestyle.
“I had an opportunity to go to other teams, but this just felt like the best fit,” Holland said. “It just felt like a chance to be on a winning baseball team. We’ve proven that. Other than a week-and-a-half stretch, we’ve played really good baseball. I’m excited for the months to follow, for sure.”
Holland has pitched in a World Series (2014) and played on a world champion (2015), but he’s never had the chance to get that final out of the season. Not yet anyway.
“I guess that kind of leaves me with a feeling of unfinished business,” he said.