Holland juggling pitching, player union duties

Holland juggling pitching, player union duties

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Derek Holland is getting ready to march into the heart of the labor negotiations, but the challenge is being able to balance his duties as a starting pitcher with the task of being the Rangers player representative.

That could be a daunting task as Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association spend the year negotiating a new Basic Agreement. MLBPA executive director Tony Clark and other union officials were in camp on Thursday to brief Rangers players and Holland, who has been the player rep for the past four years and wants to be involved in the process.

"Obviously, pitching is No. 1," Holland said. "But I want to be involved as much as I can so I have a good understanding of what is going on and keep our guys informed. This will be the first time I have been a part of bargaining, so I want to see how it goes down."

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This is already an important season for Holland, who has missed most of the past two seasons because of injuries. His five-year contract also runs out at the end of the 2016 season, although the club holds an $11 million option on him for '17 and an $11.5 million option for '18.

The financial implications aside, Holland's needed presence in the rotation is obvious. He won 38 games for the Rangers in 2011-13 and just six combined over the past two seasons.

"This will not be a distraction," Holland said. "My focus is on the field. I have been doing this for four years. This time, it's different because of the bargaining. But this is just a matter of getting as much knowledge of what's going on behind the scenes."

It may end up not being that difficult for Holland. Each of the past three Basic Agreements have been reached without a work stoppage.

"You prepare for the worst and hope for the best," said former Rangers pitcher Rick Helling, now a special assistant in the MLBPA. "The game is in a good place. Every year, the economic landscape grows significantly. Attendance is growing, TV revenue is growing, all those things are good. But it is still a bargaining process, and there are things that need to be discussed. Hopefully, it will go smoothly."

Helling was one of two Rangers pitchers who got deeply involved in the Players Association back in the 1990s when the negotiations were intense. The other was Kevin Brown.

Brown was a hard-core union activist and Rangers player representative during the 1994-95 players' strike. He was a highly intelligent Georgia Tech engineering student who was never shy about voicing his opinion or worried about offending those on the other side. But as negotiations progressed amid the 1994 season, Brown struggled on the mound, going 7-9 with a 4.82 ERA after winning a combined 36 games over the preceding two seasons.

Helling got involved in the late 1990s, taking an even higher-profile role as the American League player representative on the union board. Helling was also unafraid to speak his mind as he was the first Major Leaguer to openly condemn the use of steroids. Despite his union duties, Helling still tended to business on the field, averaging 15 wins per season from 1998-2001.

"I don't think it will be that difficult for Derek," Helling said. "It helps being a starting pitcher, you have a little more time off between game duties. The association does a good job of scheduling conference calls when guys are around. It is part of being in a leadership position. Since he has taken the job, he has been connected and involved. He has been great. I expect he'll be fine."

Holland took over as player rep from C.J. Wilson, who held the job in 2011. That was the last time a Basic Agreement was negotiated. Wilson, who always balanced a wide variety of extracurricular activities, had no trouble handling his dual role that season, going 16-7 with a 2.94 ERA in 34 starts and helping the Rangers go to the World Series for the second straight year.

T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.