In what many are considering to be a crime against humanity, on October 29th the Cleveland Indians placed their 3-time-all-star closer Brad Hand on outright waivers.
This is a move solely orchestrated to cut costs. Brad Hand has a $10 million team option on his contract this season, with a $1 million buyout. The Indians were hoping another team will claim Hand, which would have saved them from paying the buyout. The team that claimed Hand would take on his $10 million contract.
In an equally surprising development, Hand went unclaimed. Not a single team placed a claim on the 30-year-old. The Indians have declined and bought out his option, which now makes him a free agent. The Angels would be wise to pursue the closer heavily within the coming days.
Gotta Hand it to Him, He’s Pretty Good
This past season, Brad Hand led the entire MLB in saves with 16. He pitched to the tune of a 2.05 ERA, 0.773 WHIP, 1.37 FIP, and 11.9 K/9 in 22 innings pitched. While these numbers will make any baseball fan drool, it doesn’t even tell the whole picture. In his first 3 appearances of the season, he had a 15.73 ERA after giving up 4 earned runs in 2.1 innings. Since then, he had only given up 1 earned run in 18.1 innings pitched, which would give him an ERA of 0.49 over that time period. During that same stretch, opposing batters slashed an abysmal .156/.194/.234 against Hand. Obviously, it’s not good practice to pick and choose what games to include in stats (I wish I could do that for myself), but in Hand’s case, it’s easy to chalk the outlier games up to early-season jitters.
Hand wasn’t always this dominant and he struggled early in his career. After being drafted by the Florida Marlins, he played there for 5 years (2011-2015), compiling a record of 9-25 with a 4.71 ERA, 1.424 WHIP, 4.54 FIP, and a 5.9 K/9 over 288.2 innings pitched. He was then placed on waivers and claimed by San Diego.
During his time in San Diego (2016-2018), Hand broke out in a big way and immediately made a name for himself. As a Padre, Hand pitched 213.0 innings, and accumulated a 2.66 ERA, 1.038 WHIP, 3.08 FIP, 11.8 K/9, and added 46 saves. He also made the All-Star team twice.
It was at the 2018 All-Star Game that Hand would wear a Padres uniform for the last time, as he was soon after traded alongside Adam Cimber to the Indians for catching prospect Fransisco Mejia. Many fans thought the Indians overpaid for Hand, as they gave up one of the top prospects in baseball (#5 at the time) for a potential fluke. Hand proved them wrong. Since being acquired, Hand had served as Cleveland’s closer and compiled 58 saves over 107.0 innings, with a 2.78 ERA, 1.121 WHIP, 2.62 FIP, and 13.0 K/9.
To thank Hand for his 2 and a half years of elite performance, the Indians refused to pick up his $10 million option, paying him $1 million to leave the team instead. He is now a free agent.
Hand Would Fit Like a Glove on the Angels
I am honestly shocked the Angels elected not to make a claim for the all-star. The waiver priority list follows the reverse standings from the previous season which mimics the draft order, this puts the Angels at the 9th spot on the list behind the Pirates, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, Orioles, D-Backs, Royals, and the Rockies. The Angels would have been the most likely to make a claim, as they are, among that list, best positioned to make a postseason push.
The non-move is perplexing, to say the least. In recent years, the Angels have handed out more money to bigger question marks than Hand. For example, in 2019 they signed starting pitcher Matt Harvey to a 1-year/$11 million deal. The Angels were banking on Harvey bouncing back after recording a 4.94 ERA in 155.0 innings with the Mets and Reds. If you follow the team at all you know what happens next, he struggled even more as a Halo, recording an ERA of 7.09 over 59.2 innings. Harvey was released mid-season. In the same offseason, they signed Trevor Cahill to a 1-year/$9 million deal. Cahill was the same situation, he was a big ‘what-if’ that didn’t pan out. He was moved to the bullpen after posting an ERA of 6.92 over 11 starts. I don’t mean to bring up bad memories for Angels fans, but I figured these should at least be brought up when trying to figure out why the Angels didn’t claim Hand. Not putting in a claim for him at $10 million is nearly unjustifiable, as he has demonstrated elite consistency over the last 5 seasons.
While it is surprising that the Angels didn’t claim him, it may work out to their benefit as they can now negotiate a multi-year deal. Having said that, the Halos will now be competing for Hand, as virtually every contender will be chomping at the bit to sign the closer.
I recently went into great depth on Angels’ reliever Mike Mayers’ breakout season and emergence as the likely candidate to start the 2021 season as the closer. However, If the Angels manage to win the Hand sweepstakes, I expect Hand to slot into the closer role immediately. Not only did Hand outperform Mayers this past season, but he also has the track record and consistency to bolster his case. Regardless, a signing of Hand would be a massive step in the right direction in improving the Angels bullpen.
I’m bewildered by the Indian’s decision to not hold onto Hand. It’s also uncertain as to why the Angels decided not to claim him. I can’t put my finger on it. I’m hoping the next GM sees this article and says that I have single-handedly convinced him to sign the All-Star. Although they will likely have to feel out the market before making a move like this, whoever steps into the vacant GM position will want to win over Angels fans right away, as they can be a handful at times. A move like this would show them that he’s not out of touch.