Greg Holland projects to earn more than $9 million in arbitration for next season, a sizable sum for any reliever, and an especially gaudy figure for a club like the Royals. Only left fielder Alex Gordon, due $14 million, will receive a larger paycheck from the Royals.
That fact could change in the coming days, if the Royals can strike a deal for a free agent such as outfielder Melky Cabrera or pitcher Ervin Santana. The reality will not. Holland has enfeebled hitters for four seasons and established himself as the American League’s premier reliever. His compensation is becoming commensurate with his reputation, at a time when his team’s heralded bullpen will be more expensive than ever.
As their roster stands now, the Royals could pay as much as $24 million for a quintet of relievers. Holland is the most expensive. The team picked up Wade Davis’ $7 million option. Kelvin Herrera should receive about $1.5 million in arbitration. The club’s only two big-league signings thus far this winter were for relievers: a two-year, $10 million deal for Luke Hochevar and a $1.8 million deal for Jason Frasor.
The Royals charged into the World Series with a formula based on their defense and late-game bullpen. Yet rival executives are still dubious about the team allocating such a significant portion of their payroll toward the game’s most common commodity. Which is why Kansas City is expected to continue to field trade inquiries about both Holland and Davis at the Winter Meetings here this week, according to people familiar with the situation.
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General manager Dayton Moore and the rest of his front-office brain trust arrived Sunday afternoon at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The meetings officially begin on Monday.
The Royals are expected to remain quiet on the free-agent front, wary of the current sticker prices for players like Cabrera and Santana. But they will be active in exploring trades to fill their needs.
When this offseason began, Moore insisted he did not intend to break up his bullpen. But the team is willing to part with Holland or Davis in exchange for either a starter or outfielder to fill other holes on their roster.
The Royals may be more inclined to retain Davis. Both pitchers are 29. Holland possesses a longer track record, but is more expensive. The Royals possess two more options on Davis, effectively holding him on a three-year, $25 million deal through 2017. Due to arbitration, Holland could earn nearly as much during just these next two seasons.
Davis also benefits from a more classic pitcher’s profile, a 6-5 frame that doesn’t raise the eyebrows of scouts. Holland stands 5-10 and utilizes a violent delivery. Rival evaluators worry about his potential for a breakdown. He missed a good chunk of September due to a sore triceps.
The number of suitors for Holland is limited by several factors, rival evaluators say. The interested club must be close to contention, willing to spend on a niche resource and uninterested in the newfound prevailing logic on relief pitchers. In each of the last four seasons, the closer on the World Series champion began the season in another role. More and more, the concept of a “proven closer” has been discredited.
The Dodgers employ a surplus of outfielders and their leaky bullpen hampered them in the playoffs. Houston and Toronto are also thought to be in the market for a closer. If a club misses out on free-agent reliever David Robertson, they could open up the phone lines to Kansas City.
There will always be interest in a bullpen ace like Holland. It is just difficult to recoup a big-league regular in exchange for a reliever. Texas gave up future home-run champ Chris Davis to acquire Koji Uehara midway through 2011. Josh Reddick headlined the package sent to Oakland for Andrew Bailey before the 2012 season.
Neither Davis nor Reddick was a proven big-leaguer before those trades. For the Royals, the gamble would be identifying that type of player who can contribute in 2015. History is littered with examples of deals that went bust.
Jim Johnson saved 101 games with a 2.74 ERA for Baltimore in 2012 and 2013. When his salary spiked into eight figures through arbitration before last season, the Orioles shipped him to Oakland. In return they received failed former first-round pick Jemile Weeks. Weeks played 14 games in the majors in 2014.
Here in San Diego, the Royals can deal from a position of strength. Their bullpen was suffocating in 2014. With Hochevar back, they hope they can be that much deeper this coming season. Or they could flip one of their late-game stars to fill other needs. The coming days should provide more clarity.