PHOENIX — In talking about a pitcher he ultimately wasn’t able to reel in, Giants general manager Bobby Evans often jokingly referred to Andrew Miller as a “North Carolina guy,” a plus to Evans, who graduated from UNC. Is it possible the GM’s solution for the ninth inning is another closer from a Carolina school?
Evans and Dick Tidrow, the front office’s pitching guru, were among the executives in attendance Monday when former Royals closer Greg Holland held a showcase in Phoenix. The organization is casting a wide net in search of a ninth-inning solution, and Evans has already touched base with the agents for the big free agents. Aroldis Chapman, Kenley Jansen and Mark Melancon are the marquee names, but Holland is an intriguing under-the-radar candidate.
“Based on his experience and success, you’re certainly going to look at him as an option to close,” Evans said Tuesday at the annual GM Meetings. “But these things are just barely unfolding right now.”
In the opening days of free agency, Evans has started to get a picture of the trade options that might be out there. The big fish in that respect would be Kansas City’s Wade Davis, but it hasn't yet been made clear that he's available. The Giants checked in with the Royals before the deadline but backed away when Davis got hurt. Ultimately, the Giants opted to bolster the rotation with Matt Moore. That left them short in the bullpen, and after a month of watching closers star in the postseason, finding a new one remains the No. 1 priority.
“We’re getting a little more clarity on our options but it’s still only a little more clarity because there’s a lot of time left to see how things will unfold,” Evans said. “But we’re very clear that we want to be very sure who is finishing our games.”
The Giants saw in 2014 that Holland is capable of doing it as well as anyone, but they’re not alone. Per the New York Post, about 60 scouts from 18 different teams gathered to watch Holland throw at a small local college. Holland pitched a couple of simulated innings, sitting around 89-90 mph.
When healthy, Holland is on par with the game-changers who dominated in October. He posted identical All-Star seasons in 2013 and 2014 and might have been the most consistent relief pitcher in the game. Holland saved 47 games in 2013 with a 1.21 ERA and 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings. A year later, he saved 46 games, posted a 1.44 ERA, and struck out 13 batters per nine innings.
No big league pitcher who threw at least 50 innings over that span had a lower ERA, and only Craig Kimbrel saved more games. Holland capped that run by saving seven postseason games and allowing just one run in 11 appearances, helping the Royals reach the World Series and take the Giants to a Game 7.
Holland’s numbers dropped off in 2015. He had, a 3.83 ERA and 9.9 strikeout rate before reconstructive elbow surgery ended his year. His agent, Scott Boras, believes that Holland will be back to his old self by the time spring training roles around.
“The reaction should be pretty positive after (the showcase),” Boras told the New York Post. “He just had to illustrate that he was healthy because when he has been healthy, he has been elite.”