Colorado's Signing of Greg Holland Means They Think They're Contenders
The Colorado Rockies apparently think they're contenders in 2017.
They may not believe they are World Series contenders, but it sure seems as though they feel they're good enough to either fight for a division title or at least a Wild Card spot.
Are they crazy? Are they delusional? Did they fall down and strike their heads on something hard and blunt? Maybe. Then again, maybe not.
The Rockies have reportedly signed free agent closer Greg Holland to a one-year, $7 million deal, with incentives that could make it as rich as $14 million this season (terms courtesy of Yahoo!'s Jeff Passan).
Why are they spending this kind of money on a closer who missed all of last season with Tommy John surgery? Why did they spend five years and $70 million on Ian Desmond to play first base, a position he's never played before, while giving up the No. 11 pick in this year's MLB draft in the process? Why did they sign middle reliever Mike Dunn to a three-year, $19 million contract?
The only way any of this makes sense is if the Rockies feel like they could compete for a playoff spot in 2017.
They may not be crazy.
What They're Getting
Holland's last game was on September 18, 2015. Since then he's had his surgery and has essentially been out of action for a year and a half. And while that recovery time means he should be at full strength come spring training, it also means it's uncertain just how rusty he's going to be.
After having ridiculously good seasons from 2011 to 2014, his 2015 numbers were down across the board, including hits strikeouts per nine innings (K/9), walks per nine (BB/9) and WAR.
It's clear he wasn't right during the 2015 season, most likely because of his elbow trouble. His fastball velocity dropped 2 full miles per hour (MPH) -- from 95.7 MPH in 2014 to 93.6 MPH in 2015. He lost the ability to control the baseball, and his K-rate dropped significantly as well.
However, before the arm injury, Holland had developed into one of the best closers in the game, and it's reasonable to think he can return to being an effective closer again (which is why other teams in need of closers, like the Washington Nationals, were rumored to be interested in Holland, as well).
An Up-and-Coming Team
But why would Colorado feel the need to even invest in a closer? They finished in third place last year (75-87), 12 games worse than the San Francisco Giants, who snuck in as the final National League wild card team in 2016.
Looking around at the rest of the roster, the Rockies may just have enough talent to make some noise.
Look, we all know the Rockies can put up some runs. They scored 845 runs last season, most in the National League and second-most in baseball behind the Boston Red Sox. With full seasons from Trevor Story and David Dahl, plus the addition of Desmond, the offense could be even a little bit better in 2017.
The bigger question surrounding the Rockies is in the rotation.
Jon Gray is the team's ace, putting up a team-best 3.7 fWAR with an FIP of 3.60. He is the only strikeout artist in the rotation, however, averaging 9.91 K/9 last season.
Chad Bettis put up an fWAR of 2.6 and an FIP of 4.29 in 32 starts, but he struggled to miss bats (6.68 K/9). Tyler Chatwood (2.1 fWAR), and Tyler Anderson (2.5 fWAR) are expected to be the team's third and fourth starters, with German Marquez -- a decent pitcher in the minors who has made just eight starts above Double-A in his career -- possibly rounding out the rotation.
But even last year, the Rockies' rotation wasn't that bad. Their 12.1 fWAR was tied with the Houston Astros for 13th in baseball, and their 4.39 FIP was 15th. None of that is great, but it's not awful either. The area where the pitching staff really struggled in 2016 was the bullpen.
What a Relief
Colorado's bullpen ERA of 5.13 ranked dead last in the National League, and they allowed opponents to hit .269 against them last season, second-worst in baseball. Their 1.47 WHIP was third-worst, and their 11.6% strikeout-to-walk percentage was 25th in baseball. They also blew 28 saves last season, third-most in baseball, two behind the MLB leaders, the Giants.
So, yeah, they need some help in the bullpen.
That's what makes the additions of Dunn and Holland interesting. Dunn has had an ERA+ of at least 116 in three of the last four years, all with the Miami Marlins. He's not spectacular, but he's a guy who could provide some stability in the middle innings and against left-handers. And if the Rockies get vintage Holland, they have a true shut-down closer at the end of games.
Look, the playoffs are probably a bit of a longshot, but if there is one losing team from last season that could turn it around and make the postseason in 2017, it may be the Colorado Rockies. And if they contend, it'll likely be because of the moves they made to upgrade their bullpen.