As his right arm recovers from elbow reconstruction, two-time All-Star closer Greg Holland entered the open market Wednesday evening after the Royals declined to tender him a contract for the 2016 season.
The decision was elementary. The Royals do not believe Holland will be able to pitch in 2016, as he underwent Tommy John surgery in September. Through the arbitration system, Holland would receive a raise from his $8.25 million salary this past season. The Royals will not pay a player more than $10 million just to rehabilitate.
So Holland is free to sign with any team in baseball, even as the Royals harbor hope to retain him on a multiyear contract, with the hope Holland could return to action in 2017. Holland hired Scott Boras as his representative late this past season, while he pitched with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. The injury helps explain Holland’s struggles in 2015, when he posted a career-worst 3.83 ERA and a 1.88 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Royals cut Holland loose as part of the designated deadline to tender contracts to players eligible for arbitration. The team also nontendered minor-league infielder Orlando Calixte, which leaves two openings on the 40-man roster.
Holland, 30, led all American League relievers in FanGraphs’ version of wins above replacement from 2011 to 2014. He saved 93 games in 2013 and 2014 with a 1.32 ERA. But he damaged his elbow heading into the final month of the regular season in 2014. Aware that he likely faced surgery, Holland decided to pitch through the pain. He responded with a 0.82 ERA as the Royals reached the World Series.
Holland hoped he could manage his compromised elbow in similar fashion this past season. But he lost velocity, and his command evaporated. In September, the team shifted Wade Davis into the closer’s role. Holland elected to have surgery soon after. Now the market will determine if he pitches in Kansas City ever again.
The Royals also fortified their catching situation heading into the spring. In their continuing quest to find more rest for catcher Salvador Perez, the Royals also acquired Tony Cruz, the longtime backup to Yadier Molina in St. Louis, in exchange for minor-league infielder Jose Martinez.
Cruz, 29, hit .204 with a .545 on-base plus slugging percentage for the Cardinals in 2015. The Royals could consider him an upgrade over Drew Butera, who appeared in 45 games after the team acquired him last May. If Butera is not traded later this winter, he could compete with Cruz for time during spring training.
To make space on the 40-man roster, the Royals designated catcher Francisco Peña for assignment and later traded him to Baltimore for cash considerations. Peña, the son of former Royals manager Tony Peña, hit 27 homers in Class AAA Omaha last season but saw that total shrink to 13 in 2015.
Both Butera and Cruz received contract offers for arbitration. Cruz became available after the Cardinals signed former Royal Brayan Peña to a two-year contract. The deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players was 11 p.m. Wednesday.
Martinez, a 19-year-old middle infielder, posted a .604 OPS for Class A Burlington and Class A Idaho Falls. He should not be confused with the outfielder Jose Martinez, who hit .384 for Class AAA Omaha last season.