Claimed off waivers by the San Diego Padres in April of 2016, Brad Hand had pitched five seasons for the Marlins, never appearing in more than 38 games. But, like many relief pitchers that end up with the Padres, he’s thrived since arriving here. However, the Padres missed an opportunity to trade him to a contender when he may be at the top of his value.
Before the trade deadline, Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union Tribune reported that as many as 15 teams had contacted the Padres about Hand who has had the best year of his career by far, with a 2.23 ERA in over 60 innings pitched and a WHIP of 0.940. As trade talks heated up the Nationals, Astros, Dodgers, Yankees, and Indians showed the most interest.
However, according to Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports, Padres’ general manager A.J. Preller sought a “Chapman-type return” for Hand. Passan referred to Aroldis Chapman, who holds the record for the fastest pitch in the history of the game at 105.1 mph and had a 2.01 ERA for the Yankees before being traded to the Chicago Cubs last year.
Preller’s 2015 trade of closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox may also have influenced his thinking. That trade netted Padres’ center fielder Manuel Margot and infielder Carlos Asuaje, as well as minor leaguers shortstop Javier Guerra and left-handed pitcher Logan Allen.
Obviously, no other team regarded Hand as a Chapman or Kimbrel type value and passed. Preller has since noted the value of having Hand through this year and having two years of control. However, in his tendency to take risks, Preller may see this blow up in his face.
The risks far outweigh the positives, especially since the one area in which the Padres have excelled over the years has been taking middling pitchers and turning them into valuable relievers, largely thanks to pitching coach Darren Balsley. Also, the Padres play in a relatively pitcher-friendly division with ballparks like Petco Park, AT&T Park and Dodger Stadium.
Until the trades of Brandon Maurer and Ryan Buchter to the Kansas City Royals, Hand had pitched in the setup role but has now moved into the closer role, arguably a more stressful role that may adversely affect his performance. Furthermore, teams do not have the same kind of urgency in the off-season as they do approaching the playoffs, which will diminish Hand’s value.
But even more relevant is the danger of injury, the danger of Hand walking off the mound for the last time with the trainer. Then, poof, his value sinks to absolutely nothing.
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On a more mundane level, manager Andy Green most definitely mishandled Hand as well as Kirby Yates in last Thursday’s game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Padres led 3-2 in the seventh inning, but Yates had walked one batter and hit another. Yates had a 2-2 count on slugger Joey Votto when Green pulled him and inserted Hand who had warmed up hurriedly. Hand walked Votto, and the next batter, Scooter Gennett hit a grand slam home run. The Reds won 10-3.
In the postgame show, Ben Higgins remarked that bringing a pitcher in in that situation is not the most effective use of a reliever and clearly a sign of over managing. That move sent a clear message to Kirby Yates that management does not trust him. Hurrying Hand’s warm up endangered the very arm the team needs to protect now that the decision has been made to keep him.
Preller has been known to overvalue Padres’ assets while undervaluing those of other teams. He may have done so again with Brad Hand in failing to trade him when his value may have been higher than it will ever be again.