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Making sense of the Red Sox’ interest in Greg Holland

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Why are they still in on him after his velocity-free showcase?

Kansas City Royals v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

When Greg Holland came out for his showcase throwing in the high 80s, it was pretty reasonable to assume that would be it for the Red Sox’ interest in the former Royals closer. Holland, after all, was always a flamethrower-style closer, living in the mid 90s and regularly finding his way up into the high ranges. For a fastball - slider guy, suddenly losing more than 5 MPH off the main offering is pretty close to death.

And yet...

This, one would hope, is not what Dave Dombrowski meant when he said the Red Sox wanted to add an eighth-inning reliever.

But the possibility exists, in at least one concerning scenario, that it is. As it stands, the Sox are headed into 2017 with a pretty hefty payroll. If you assume they spend at least $8 or $10 million on a DH (which is on the low side of things), they’re not going to have a whole lot of room left to work with if the budget stays about the same.

Then consider the fact that they’ve already tendered Fernando Abad. This not only adds $2 million to their payroll (assuming he doesn’t actually go down in salary through arbitration) but also takes up a roster spot. That leaves...not a lot of space on the Red Sox’ 25-man if they’re going to hold on to all six starting pitchers, Craig Kimbrel, Robbie Ross, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and Heath Hembree. Throw in Abad, call Wright or Buchholz or Pomeranz a reliever, and that’s five starting pitchers, and seven relievers, with Carson Smith starting the season on the 60-day disabled list.

So where does Holland fit in? Well, if he’s barely throwing 90 in November, he may have a tough time convincing anyone to take much of a gamble on him, and he might be more interested in signing on with a team that’s willing to give him however much time he needs to get back to 100% rather than throwing him to the dogs in April regardless of if he’s throwing 90 or 95. In that situation, Holland could start the season on the disabled list, pitching in Pawtucket on a rehab assignment while the Sox try to figure out who they want to keep when push comes to shove if injuries don’t take care of that problem for them.

That’s certainly not what Red Sox fans might have been hoping for when they heard the team was looking for an 8th inning arm, but it might be all they can get between both budget and roster limitations.

That’s the pessimistic side of things. But there’s two more optimistic angles. The first: the Sox are just looking to add Holland as depth under those same circumstances, jettisoning one of their other arms in the process, and then sign a more certain 8th inning arm. The second: they’re just not giving up on him completely after his questionable initial performance, and might consider him as an 8th inning possibility if, when he starts throwing again in six weeks, he does so with the velocity he used to show.

Still...”strong interest” seems like a bit much considering what Holland showed on the mound. Even knowing that players make their way back from Tommy John Surgery better than ever a lot more often these days, until Holland gives some sign that he’s going to add himself to that list instead of the one of players undone by said procedure, it’s hard to understand why the Sox would be that focused in on him.