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Kansas City Royals re-sign Greg Holland

Lynn Worthy/Kansas City Star

Greg Holland’s reunion with the Kansas City Royals and manager Mike Matheny went so well despite all the upheaval of a pandemic-shortened season that he agreed to a new deal that will keep him with the club for the 2021 season.

Kansas City Royals relief pitcher Greg Holland (35) is headed back to the Royals. [File AP Photo/Orlin Wagner]

Holland, a 35-year-old right-handed free-agent relief pitcher, re-signed with the Royals, the club announced on Monday. His contract will pay him $2.75 million plus up to $1.5 million in performance bonuses, according to a source with knowledge of the contract.

“We felt we made tremendous strides last year with the bullpen,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “Greg Holland was a huge part of that. He anchored our pen in a way that gave us a lot of comfort and security and allowed people to kind of settle into some roles. I know Mike feels comfortable running Hollie out there in any scenario, any situation. So it was important for us to try to get Hollie back.”

Last winter, Holland signed a minor-league contract with a spring training invitation with the Royals, who originally drafted him in the 10th round in 2007.

In the 60-game 2020 season, Holland posted a 1.91 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP with six saves, a 3-0 record and 31 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings in 28 appearances. Opponents batted .200 against him, and he gave up only one home run.

The Royals’ bullpen ranked among the top eight in the majors in save percentage (first, 95%), saves (third,19), percentage of runners left on base (fourth, 75.8%), strikeouts per nine innings (sixth, 10.26) and bullpen ERA (eighth, 3.84).

Five pitchers recorded saves last season, including Trevor Rosenthal, Jesse Hahn, Scott Barlow, Jake Newberry and Holland. That does not include hard-throwing right-hander Josh Staumont, who features a fastball that reaches speeds greater than 100 mph.

After the club dealt Rosenthal to the San Diego Padres prior to the trade deadline, they became even less tied to the traditional “closer” set-up and instead chose a reliever based on the opponent’s batting order. Holland provided a level of experience and previous success unmatched by anyone else in that group.

“We’ve always talked about the importance of being able to match-up the final third of the game,” Moore said. “There’s nothing that hurts the morale more than if you lose late. Conversely, when you win late, you wake up the next day ready to go, fired up. It’s a huge morale booster. …

“Now, we expect our starting pitchers to have the mindset that they’re going to go deep in every game. That obviously protects the bullpen as well, keeps them healthy, keeps them rested and fresh where they can go out and compete and have their best stuff more routinely. But you’ve got to have veteran guys in the bullpen. Greg Holland fits that bill.”

In his first tenure with the Royals, Holland became a two-time All-Star in 2013 and 2014. He saved a combined 93 games with a 1.32 ERA during those two seasons. He won the Mariano Rivera Award as the league’s top relief pitcher in 2014.

He pitched through injury and saved 32 games in 2015 before having Tommy John surgery. He wasn’t able to pitch during the Royals’ run to the World Series championship.

“He’s been a big part of the success of our organization,” Moore said. “Every team that he’s been on, he has contributed at a high level. He can get hitters out multiple ways. He’s fearless. He attacks, takes the ball. There’s just so many positive ingredients in Greg Holland that put him in a position to be a part of any championship-caliber pitching staff.”

After he sat out the 2016 season, Holland bounced back with the Colorado Rockies, saving an NL-best 41 games in 61 appearances on his way to another All-Star team selection in 2017.

In 2018, Holland signed with the St. Louis Cardinals managed by Matheny. Holland signed on the last day of March, and he didn’t pitch at all in spring training. He struggled that season and posted a 7.92 ERA in 32 games.

In 2019 with the Diamondbacks, Holland posted a 4.54 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings, and opponents batted .198 against him. He also walked 24 batters and registered a WHIP of 1.37.

This spring training in Arizona, Holland impressed immediately, and maintained that level of effectiveness into spring training 2.0. He pitched in multiple relief roles, including closing, once the season started.

The Royals previously signed free-agent deals with power-hitting first baseman Carlos Santana, starting pitcher Mike Minor and outfielder Michael A. Taylor.

Moore said he and the front office will still be on the lookout for possible additions to add pitching depth as well as a left-handed hitting outfielder.