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With this unusual off-season coming to a close, one of the last big free agents left without a team found a home on Opening Day, as reliever Greg Holland signed a one-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Making his return from Tommy John surgery last season, Holland was 41-for-45 in save opportunities as the closer for the Rockies with a 3.61 ERA, 1.151 WHIP and 11.0 K/9. He finished 11th in the National League among qualifying relievers in K/9, and his 29.8 percent strikeout rate was 10th best. Last year also saw Holland post a 1.1 HR/9 rate over 57 1/3 innings — his highest rate since his rookie year in 2010.

Despite a late start to the 2018 season, is Holland now back among the ranks of elite closers? How does this affect the rest of the Cards' bullpen in fantasy terms?

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Redbirds Lock Down Their Pen

Playing in the more pitcher-friendly Busch Stadium this year should see a noticeable decrease in Holland's ERA with the decrease in home runs. Holland should also put up better numbers not only from the new ballpark but also from having more opportunities against the rest of the National League Central, against whom he put up dominant numbers in 2017. Over 13 appearances against the Cardinals' division opponents, Holland had a 2.77 ERA and 12.4 K/9 while converting 10 of 10 save opportunities.

A slight concern though for owners looking at bidding on Holland is his struggles over the final two months of last season. Over 19 innings of work, Holland posted a 7.58 ERA and 3.8 BB/9 while surrendering five of his season total of seven home runs. Most of that damage occurred in August, and he was able to settle down and finished the season on a higher note, but these struggles plus his absence from spring training could spell trouble early this year.

While there may be some potential concern with Holland this year, there is definite concern for the pitchers that were in line for the closer role before the signing. With Holland on the Cardinals now, the fantasy relevancy of Dominic Leone and Luke Gregerson have gone up in smoke for the foreseeable future. Gregerson is going to be out with an oblique injury until around mid-April, so his value was already in jeopardy, but Leone looked like he could have run away with the closer role in light of the injury.

Leone is coming off a breakout 2017 campaign, where he posted career-bests with a 1.052 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 over 70 1/3 innings with Toronto. If Holland goes down with an injury or is traded, Leone will be the handcuff to own. Based on his prior experience plus his two-year deal with the Cardinals, Gregerson would likely get the first chance at the closer job, but Leone could very easily pitch his way ahead of Gregerson.

The Cardinals will have Holland start his year at High-A Palm Beach where he will work on getting back up to speed, and he is expected to join the Cardinals sometime during their three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers from April 9-11. Once he joins St. Louis, he'll become a top 15 closer right away and as such he should be immediately added in any leagues where he's still on the waiver wire. Holland will be one of the best "sure-thing" free agents up for bidding this season, and in 10 or 12 team mixed leagues with FAAB, owners should look to spend at least 15 to 20 percent of their budget on him.

In NL-only leagues with FAAB, owners should plan to spend up to 50 percent of their budget on him. It's always possible that a big name player will be traded from the American League to the National League near the trade deadline, but there's no guarantee of that happening. And while the National League does have some big name prospects — like Ronald Acuna — who will likely have an impact this year, there's no guarantee of what their performances will be like. Holland is likely the safest bet for NL-only owners to bid on this year, and he will be a significant impact.

 

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