Gil LeBreton

Derek Holland’s gone, and Rangers have no cavalry coming

Derek Holland has made only 35 starts in the past three seasons with the Rangers.
Derek Holland has made only 35 starts in the past three seasons with the Rangers. rmallison@star-telegram.com

He was friendly. He was funny.

He moved here and became one of us.

But when the Texas Rangers needed pitcher Derek Holland most over the past three seasons, he wasn’t there.

It was no great surprise, therefore, when the club announced Monday that it was declining Holland’s $11 million option, freeing him to sign with another team.

Cautious observers may point to the wafer-thin free agent pitching market and question the wisdom of jettisoning a left-hander with eight years in the major leagues.

Between knee surgery in 2014, however, and shoulder issues since, Holland has started only 35 games in the past three seasons. In 15 starts from May through the end of the season, Holland left the game while his team was trailing 10 times.

His velocity was down. His command was inconsistent. And he’s never had an exceptional breaking ball or changeup.

Just five years ago Holland pitched one of the most memorable games in franchise history — Game 4 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Holland and Neftali Feliz shut out St. Louis 4-0 on two hits.

But Holland was not included on this year’s postseason roster.

The ultimate referendum on his value came when general manager Jon Daniels took the bold step last week of announcing that the Rangers intended to either trade Derek or pay his $1.5 million buyout. No clubs stepped forward.

Holland will get an offer from someone, but even in a diminished pitching market, there will be several others in line ahead of him.

There is no young cavalry, meanwhile, waiting to ride in and reinforce the Rangers’ starting rotation. A farm system that produced second baseman Rougned Odor, outfielder Nomar Mazara and infielder Jurickson Profar has struggled to cultivate major league arms for the rotation.

The club has to hope that Colby Lewis, at age 37, wants to sign another one-year contract and become the No. 5 starter.

The other spot probably will be filled through free agency, where the shelves are sparse.

Right-hander Jason Hammel is an intriguing possibility, presuming he’s healthy. The World Series champion Cubs left him off their postseason roster despite a 15-10, 3.83 ERA season. Cubs president Theo Epstein said the team declined Hammel’s $12 million option so that it could open a rotation spot for others in the organization.

Hammel has been streaky, and his few late-season struggles were marked by reports of an elbow issue.

But whether it’s Hammel’s elbow, Rich Hill’s blister, Andrew Cashner’s beard or Bartolo Colon’s pants size, shopping for free agent pitchers always entails an element of risk.

Best guess at Hammel’s price: three years, $40 million. If the Rangers don’t get him, they can expect to face him either with the Astros, Angels or Mariners.

Tall and left-handed, Hill has been predicted to be rewarded with an even better contract. His 2016 season was his best — at age 36 — after mostly six years in the bullpen.

Hill’s curveball was so good, his price will be influenced by the novelty factor. In this high velocity pitching age, guys with big curveballs can tie an opponent in knots.

Still, a three-year deal for a 37-year-old novelty act seems risky.

Cashner, the TCU ex, could be a candidate for a one-year contract in the less-than-$10 million range. And don’t laugh — there’s always the eternal Colon who, rumor has it, will be 44 next season.

In other words, GM Daniels has a lot of work ahead of him, filling holes and replacing Holland.

Not to mention a complete off-season evaluation of why there is no cavalry of young arms in the organization.

Like Derek Holland once was.

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