Greg Holland spent his long, strange offseason crisscrossing the country, staying in shape and waiting for the phone to ring. Now his path to St. Louis is set, written in pen and more than a mere possibility.
Holland reported to the Cardinals' training complex in Jupiter, Fla., on Monday. The plan is for Holland to pitch in two games for Class A Advanced Palm Beach -- Thursday and Saturday -- before flying to St. Louis for Monday's game against the Brewers. At that point, the Cardinals will have the closer they spent a winter waiting for.
"I'm a baseball player, I'm not a business man," Holland said Monday, on a conference call with reporters. "I try to separate myself from that aspect of it. You can get a phone call in November or in March. That's the way it works. You have to be ready whenever it comes."
When it did, the Cardinals had the man they'll call upon to lock down games. Nobody saved more than Holland's 41 in the National League last season, and no one in the American League did so over the three years prior to 2016, which Holland missed due to Tommy John surgery. Which is why the Cardinals eyed him for months, from the GM Meetings in November through the end of Spring Training, even as they opted to insure their late-inning plans with trades, smaller signings and in-house options.
In the past week, negotiations between club officials and Holland's representatives accelerated. They agreed to a one-year, $14 million deal on Opening Day.
"As the offseason unfolded, we were always paying attention to what was happening in the relief market," president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. "Clearly Greg's name would come up a lot."
To the baseball world, the match appeared too perfect. Little left the Cardinals out of the postseason the last two seasons more than their ability to close games. And while Holland's effectiveness lagged in the second half of 2017 with the Rockies, few could argue his late-inning pedigree.
A free agent for the first time, Holland sought a multiyear deal in the vein of the three-year, $52 million pact his former bullpen-mate Wade Davis signed with Colorado. Come spring, Holland wasn't the only star player waiting to sign in a historically sagged free agent market. But he ended up being the last All-Star to do so.
"It was strange watching Spring Training games but I understood that was part of it for a lot of players this year," said Holland, who will earn a significant raise on his 2017 salary of $6 million. "I wanted to make sure whoever I invested in also invested in me. That's ultimately what happened."
In the meantime, the 32-year-old Holland tried to simulate a normal offseason. He threw between four and six bullpens before pitchers and catchers officially reported anywhere, then several live bullpen sessions at his agency's Los Angeles complex and at Western Carolina University, his alma mater. He simulated 10-12 innings against college hitters, twice throwing on back-to-back days. Holland called it akin to a typical spring workload.
"We mimicked that really well," he said.