Giants’ Holland says unsigned free agents mean teams tanking

© John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Derek Holland threw the variety of pitches he wanted in his first start of spring training. Then he tossed a few figurative hard ones at baseball executives reluctant to sign top free agents.

Holland used the term "tanking," as if teams intentionally are trying to lose, which is not only strong but possibly misleading.

They’re not deliberatively dropping flies or fumbling grounders.

What Holland pointed out is that organizations are not doing everything possible to win, so far reluctant to spend what must be spent not only on Bryce Harper — now the Dodgers are in the mix, apparently — but Cy Young award winner Dallas Keuchel; reliever Craig Kimbrel, who helped the Red Sox win the World Series; and All-Star outfielder Adam Jones.

A year ago Holland was a free agent, after being dropped by the White Sox. Not exactly in the Kimbrel-Keuchel category, but he was an experienced lefty. He earned a place on the Giants in 2018 spring training.

On Monday, now more relaxed than a year ago — “but still trying as if I had to find a place on the team,” he said — Holland allowed three hits and three runs in his one inning.

The game, before 5,683 at Scottsdale Stadium, ended in a 4-4 tie, leaving the Giants with a 0-2-1 record, not that anyone’s counting. What Holland has been counting is the top free agents still unsigned, and when a teammate kidded, “You sound like a player representative,” Holland responded, “I used to be.”

Now, he said, he remains concerned about the state of the game.

“I don’t normally pay attention too much to what’s going on,” Holland said. “You got guys out there, I’m shocked. Craig Kimbrel. I mean that’s one of the best closers in the game right now. He’s on a pace to pass (Hall of Fame reliever Mariano) Rivera. Keuchel, he’s got a Cy Young. Adam Jones is a hell of a center fielder. There’s so much talent, it’s crazy. Nobody’s really spending anything.”

The players want the big contracts, of course. But no less important, players want to win. The Padres will be better with Manny Machado. Whoever signs him will be better with the acquisition of Harper.

Great players do not come cheaply. Whether it was the 1951 Yankees or the 2018 Red Sox, champions with rare exception have the highest payrolls in the sport.

“What kind of bothers me,” said Holland, “is that there are teams out there trying to tank. That’s the thing that bleeps me off. You want your fans to support you. You want them to be there for you. So go out and get those guys so you can fill the stands.

“That’s what it’s all about, the fans. They want the players in there. You got to put talent in there. That’s what they think.”

Some also think athletes are overpaid. But if a multi-billion-dollar business exists solely because of individuals with a talent to hit a baseball, catch a football or shoot a basketball, they deserve to share in its success.

Fans only seem interested in salaries when players are performing poorly or the team is losing. When the winners hold their championship parades, as the Patriots did a few weeks ago or the Warriors have done three times in the past four years, you never hear a whimper about how much the guys being honored are being paid.

You only hear people chanting, “We’re No. 1.”

The Giants had their parades after the seasons of 2010, 2012 and 2014. Then they tumbled. Thus the hope, perhaps without substance, is that the Giants, affirming intent to stay within budget, might sign Harper.

You sense Holland wouldn’t mind that transaction. Nor, managing his final season for the Giants, would Bruce Bochy, who in his postgame remarks asked if there was any news. He didn’t mean from North Korea.

Holland contends the Giants, even with the same not-so-old cast as last year, will be competitive.

“The big thing,” he contends, “is everybody’s healthy now. That’s the biggest issue. We lost (Madison) Bumgarner before the season started, Then (Evan) Longoria, Shark (Jeff Samardzija).

“This time, we’re starting off on the right foot. I think having everybody here will be huge.”

If not as huge as, say, picking up Bryce Harper. Oh well.