Brad Hand Update

What’s up with Brad Hand?

Recently, both the Nationals and Yankees acquired multiple relievers in single trades, with Washington picking up Sean Doolittle and Ryan Madson and New York getting David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle (along with third baseman Todd Frazier). Among those two teams, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Washington look for more help. They lost Blake Treinen in the deal, who has a 5.59 ERA on the season but better peripherals and even better stuff. Plus, Madson’s old and Doolittle’s an injury risk, which, combined with the loss of Treinen, makes the Nationals bullpen still relatively thin given their championship aspirations.

Meanwhile, Hand’s in San Diego, but there are still 12 days until the deadline. Here are some disjointed thoughts on possibly the best reliever left on the market.

How much does the 2.5 years of control add to Hand’s trade value?

Hand has a favorable contract, signed for $1.375 million this year and still arbitration-eligible through 2019. Here’s the thing with relievers, though: they’re relievers. You rarely hear about major-league teams building around a relief pitcher, especially if the player isn’t Craig Kimbrel or Andrew Miller or Kenley Jansen. Relievers are too volatile to really project two or three years down the road. I’d guess that a team looking to acquire Hand would view his arb-eligible 2018 season as a legit bonus. An additional year of control in 2019, though, would hardly register much extra value. Hand will be 29 then, more expensive, and carrying a heavy workload on his left arm.

Similar thoughts were echoed on a recent episode of FanGraphs audio, but it just doesn’t appear that teams value extra years of control with relievers like they do with starting pitchers or position players. And given what we know about the general species of relief pitchers, it’s probably a smart approach. It’s easy to talk yourself into thinking that 2.5 years of Hand on a bargain contract is worth as much as, say, half a year of expensive Aroldis Chapman. But the Cubs were trying to win a World Series last year, and Chapman throws 101 mph and strikes out 15 per nine. Even though Hand is cheaper and under control for longer, the elite class of reliever still holds a big edge on the next class down, and you can mostly throw contracts out the window.

Do the Padres have to trade Hand at the deadline? 

On last week’s edition of Padres and Pints, Chris and I discussed A.J. Preller hopefully wavering a little bit off of his high demands for Hand. Preller holding out for the most he can get out of his players is commendable (and smart), but there are times when cashing in makes sense. While there would theoretically be plenty of time to trade Hand in the future (the Padres dealt Kimbrel in the offseason for a big haul), Hand’s at an absolute peak in terms of trade value right now. Both his surface stats and peripherals look great, and while that’s a good indication that he should continue to perform well through the rest of this season and into 2018, Hand’s still a reliever. As mentioned, they’re inherently volatile, in part because one or two disastrous performances can ruin a previously spotless record. Further, Hand’s thrown more innings since the start of 2016 than any other pure reliever, and injury concerns loom for any pitcher.

If the deals just aren’t coming, I certainly wouldn’t unload Hand just for kicks. For some of the reasons mentioned previously, there’s potential that holding on to him longer could work out. Providing that a few fair deals find their way into Preller’s text messages, though, I’d say it’s the right decision to move Hand by the end of this month. It’s just too much of a risk to keep Hand when one injury or a bad week could put a major dent into his trade value. Remember, Hand doesn’t have the track record of someone like Kimbrel, so while the value’s relatively high right now, it’s still somewhat tenuously high.

Where’s he most likely headed?

I traded Hand to all 29 other teams last month, so I’ve got this one covered regardless. But here are my guesses for his most likely destinations:

5. Twins

I’m not sure whether the Twins believe they’re contenders, and while they’re just a game over .500, they’re also only 1.5 back in the AL Central and right in the mix in the wild card. Plus, the bullpen’s still as shaky as any and without a shutdown lefty, so Hand fits. The Twins might be more of an outsider because it’s unclear whether they’d be willing to give up enough, but a hot streak to close out the month could change that.

4. Dodgers

Great teams always love adding relievers at the deadline, playing up the “you can never have enough relievers/pitchers” card. The Cubs, for instance, didn’t need to get Chapman last year, by any means. But there’s some comfort in having a bunch of good options out of the ‘pen. Further, the Dodgers system is loaded, so it’s possible this divisional deal could work.

3. Red Sox

I still think the Red Sox and Padres will hook up for another trade when the opportunity presents itself. There are only so many teams for Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox to go shopping with, and my guess would be that much of the anger they apparently felt last year has subsided, particularly given Drew Pomeranz‘s ERA and Anderson Espinoza‘s innings total this year. Oh yeah, the Red Sox ‘pen is a bit light after Kimbrel, especially in the category of a halfway reliable lefty.

2. Nationals

Still a logical fit for the reasons discussed above. It’d be surprising if the Nats didn’t add another quality reliever by July 31.

1. Astros

The Astros are 16.5 games clear in the AL West, so even with the recent loss of Carlos Correa for two months, they can safely start planning for the postseason. Their bullpen is good, but the main lefty, Tony Sipp, remains a sketchy first option. They’ve shown a willingness to deal prospects for big leaguers of late, and Hand would fit in nicely among a solid (yet mostly right-handed) group of relief arms.

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