Cubs acquire lefty Holland for bullpen matchups

Outfielder Happ recalled from Triple-A Iowa; lefty Collins DFA'd

July 27th, 2019

MILWAUKEE -- With the Trade Deadline looming, the Cubs are balancing winning with evaluating and adding reinforcements. The latest layer to that approach for Chicago arrived Friday, when the club made a handful of roster moves to address current needs.

Ahead of Friday's series opener against the Brewers, the Cubs acquired left-hander and cash from the Giants in exchange for cash considerations, and they also recalled outfielder from Triple-A Iowa. To clear room on the active roster for Happ and on the 40-man roster for Holland, Chicago designated lefty reliever for assignment.

Holland gives the Cubs a veteran left-hander to help bolster the bullpen's production against lefty batters. Happ's return to the Majors -- he has been at Triple-A all season after spending parts of the past two years in the big leagues -- gives Chicago another option for manager Joe Maddon as he mixes and matches in the outfield and at second base. Holland is planning on joining the Cubs on Saturday in Milwaukee.

Entering Friday, left-handed Cubs relievers had given up a .319/.382/.519 slash line against left-handed batters this season. A lot of that damage came against Mike Montgomery, who was dealt to the Royals earlier this month in exchange for catcher Martín Maldonado. Even after adding Holland, Chicago will surely be exploring other relief options ahead of Wednesday's 3 p.m. CT Trade Deadline.

"We're still looking for upgrades, yeah," president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "If the right opportunity presents itself or we can get another weapon from the left side, we'd love to jump on that."

This season, the 32-year-old Holland has held left-handed batters to a .182/.276/.195 slash line in 89 plate appearances. Among all Major League pitchers who have faced at least 75 left-handed batters this season, only five have generated a lower opponent OPS than Holland (.471). In parts of 11 MLB seasons, the southpaw has held lefties to a .234 average (.620 OPS).

Holland was designated for assignment by the Giants on Sunday after posting a 5.90 ERA with 71 strikeouts and 35 walks in 68 2/3 innings. He allowed a .293 average and 1.022 OPS against right-handed batters, but Chicago will look to utilize Holland mostly as a left-on-left option. Holland is under contract for $6.5 million this season, and he has a $7 million team option (or $500,000 buyout) for 2020.

"He's throwing the ball really, really well against lefties," Epstein said. "It's been a long track record of success against lefties, especially this year. He's really been dominant against them."

When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster, and 25-man roster if he was on that as well. Within seven days of the transaction (it was previously 10 days), the player must either be traded, released or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.

The addition of Happ is unrelated to third baseman exiting Wednesday's game in San Francisco with right knee soreness. That said, given Happ's ability to handle all three outfield spots, Maddon may be able to decrease Bryant's exposure to the outfield, if deemed necessary.

The 24-year-old Happ -- a first-round pick by the Cubs in the 2015 MLB Draft -- burst onto the big league scene in '17, belting 24 home runs and posting an .842 OPS in 115 games. In '18, his slugging percentage dropped to .408 from .514, and his strikeout rate climbed to 36.2 percent. After monitoring his at-bats closely this past spring, the Cubs opted to send Happ to Iowa to focus on some swing and approach adjustments.

In 99 games at Triple-A, Happ hit .242 with 16 homers, 53 RBIs and 113 strikeouts (26.3 percent) against 65 walks in 429 plate appearances. Happ hit .230 with a .774 OPS against right-handed pitching and .272 (.846 OPS) against lefties.

"I want to praise him for his attitude," Epstein said. "Obviously, it was a very rough stretch right there towards the end of Spring Training and the beginning of the year, understandably. But he has been a team-first player in Triple-A. He's worked extremely hard. He's been very accountable."

Happ went 0-for-5 on July 1, but then he turned in a .348/.477/.652 slash line with nearly as many walks (17) as strikeouts (18) in the next 19 games, leading up to his promotion to the Cubs. That showing came after he hit at a .188 clip for the month of June.

"Everything started to be in a good spot," Happ said. "Not only was I walking, hitting the ball in the air, hitting the ball hard, but I was striking out less, and it was just kind of a really good stretch there where things from the left side started to feel really good, things from the right side maintained where they were. The last month has been really solid."

Happ can help in the infield if needed, but it is more likely that he sees time in the outfield. The switch-hitter could split time with in center field, or he could shift to either corner based on matchups.

Holland and Happ represent the latest in a slew of recent transactions for the Cubs, who are casting a wide net on the trade front. Chicago is in the market for bullpen help, but the club is also exploring the position-player market. Recent reports have linked the Cubs to Toronto's , Arizona's and Detroit's , for example.

Besides acquiring Maldonado -- giving the Cubs three catchers at the moment -- reliever (recently off the IL) and struggling infielder were also optioned to Triple-A Iowa during the recent series against the Giants. Chicago has also moved a number of other relievers back and forth between Iowa and the Majors as it weighs its bullpen situation.