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Rays Free Agent Target: Greg Holland

Holland is a dark horse on the free agent market and would boost the Rays’ bullpen instantly.

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Free agent reliever and Tommy John surgery recoveree Greg Holland is drawing interest around the league, and the former Kansas City Royals closer could soon find a home for the 2017 season.

After missing all of 2016 due to the elbow injury, Holland held a showcase last week with over 20 MLB teams in attendance. While his velocity sat in the 89-91 mph range, one scout told the New York Post’s Joel Sherman that Holland had “good extension” in his delivery, suggesting he’s healthy. Almost a year-and-a-half removed from surgery, the belief is that Holland — who will take six weeks off after the 35-pitch showcase — will build up his arm strength and approach his career 95.5 mph average velocity.

But with so many interested teams, including the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Washington Nationals, how could the Rays lure the two-time All-Star Florida? It’s simple: They can offer Holland the closer’s role right away.

Hard-throwing right-hander Alex Colome, who saved 37 games for the Rays last season — after filling in for the injured Brad Boxberger — is reportedly on the market (via ESPN’s Buster Olney). Given the sky high cost of acquiring closers right now, that should come as no surprise.

Colome, 27, made the All-Star team last season in addition to posting a sterling 1.91 ERA in 56.2 innings. The year prior, however, the Dominican Republic native bounced around as a starter and reliever, yielding mixed results as he learned to develop a reliever’s routine.

Tampa Bay Rays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

As for Boxberger, the 28-year-old missed most of 2016 due to adductor surgery and a strained oblique. The former first-round pick by the Cincinnati Reds was acquired by Tampa Bay in the January 2014 in the same deal that brought Matt Andriese and Logan Forsythe to the Tampa Bay Rays for Jesse Hahn and Alex Torres.

Boxberger rewarded the Rays with 2.37 ERA in 63 games out of the bullpen in 2014; he was named closer in 2015, leading the American League with 41 saves. But the injuries in 2016 leave him as anything but a certainty.

Holland’s agent Scott Boras insists that he’s is not limiting his choices to strictly whom can offer him a ninth-inning opportunity, as Boras told reporters at the GM meetings at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa (via The Kansas City Star):

Whatever role they have, I think everybody is understanding what benefit (relievers) play in a team’s goal to win a championship.

However, from 2013-15, Holland was arguably the most dominant closer in the game. He averaged 60 appearances, 42 saves, and 12.2 K/9, showing dominance and durability. Before undergoing surgery, Holland was actually pitching with a tear in his elbow and still registered a 3.83 ERA, 32 saves, and a 1.83 FIP while clocking in at 93.6 mph, per FanGraphs.

The market features more appealing, yet more expensive options such as Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon. All three had tremendous seasons in 2016 and are in line for hefty, multi-year pacts.

The Rays, however, are notorious for not handing out big money contracts, something Chris Archer called for the team to do recently:

I think in order for us to be successful, we've got to spend more money. You look at the teams that were in contention this year and they were all around the $100-million payroll mark or more. And we're in the $70 million payroll (range).

Minnesota Twins v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Boras believes that his client will land a two-year deal two-year deal with a lot of incentives. If he stays healthy and productive, Holland’s earning potential figures to increase — just like his velocity.

Should the Rays decide to keep Colome, adding Holland still makes sense. Tampa Bay had the 10th-worst bullpen ERA (4.09) in the majors last season. If Boxberger, and Holland return healthy and Colome expands on his outstanding 2016, the Rays’ bullpen becomes an asset.

If the Rays can reach the World Series with a 40-year-old Troy Percival — who they signed to a two-year, $8 million deal prior to the 2008 season — closing games, giving Holland, a 30-year-old who is less than two years removed from dominance a similar deal is a wise move.