In what will be the first of many “big surprises” this off-season, the Cleveland Indians declined the $10 million option on veteran All-Star reliever Brad Hand on Thursday. Could Hand land with the Mariners? Let’s discuss.
Before we begin our discussion surrounding Brad Hand, let’s acknowledge something: MLB owners are terrible. They’ll use the pandemic as an excuse to cut costs at every single turn and MLB’s “middle class” will bear the brunt of their unethical ways. Now, back to Brad Hand and the Seattle Mariners. Could they may sense for each other?
Before we discuss his fit with Seattle, let’s answer a simple question: is Hand still good? The answer is an emphatic yes. In fact, Hand was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2020. He led the AL in saves, but more importantly, Hand was dominant. In 22 innings, Hand recorded 29 strikeouts and just four walks while posting a 2.05 ERA, a 1.37 FIP, a 0.773 WHIP, and a 7.25 K/BB ratio, good for a 0.7 bWAR in just 22 innings.
Hand also ranked in the 96th percentile in xwOBA, xERA, xBA, and was in the 92nd percentil in K%. Hand is primarily a fastball/slider left-handed hurler and the former is one of the better pitches in baseball, generating a 38.6% Whiff rate in 2020 and a 42.6 % rate in 2019. Hand isn’t overpowering, his fastball sits at just 92 MPH, but he is able to spin the baseball well, ranking in the 86th percentile in fastball spin rate.
The combination of plus stuff and above-average command make Hand not just one of the dirtiest left-handed relievers in the game, but one of the toughest pitchers to matchup against in the entire game. Cleveland is clearly going to blame the pandemic for their decision to cut an elite reliever on a reasonable deal, but they’re not likely going to be alone. There is a high probability that Hand clears waivers in which should be a clear indicator that the free agent market isn’t going to be kind to the players.
Assuming Hand clears waivers, could the Mariners be interested? Of course they could be and probably should be. In fact, if they so chose to claim Hand and pay him $10 million for one season, it would still be a fantastic move. But we know Jerry Dipoto is looking to add veteran relievers this off-season. We also know that Dipoto wants guys who can dominate the strike zone, avoid walks, and generate high fastball spin rates. Hand checks all three boxes.
But as with all free agents, it takes two to tango. And while MLB clubs may not be willing to pay Hand $10 million for one season, he’ll certainly have many suitors willing to give him two or three year contracts in the neighborhood of $6-$8 million AAV. So if the money is equal, ask yourself one question: why would Hand pick Seattle? Particularly if the other teams calling have legitimate World Series aspirations? The answer would have to be money.
So if the Mariners need to outbid the market for him and actually covet his services, their best (and perhaps only) chance would be to claim Hand on waivers. But this would lock in Hand as a 1-year rental and we do not know if the Mariners are going to be interested in paying above-market rates for relievers this winter.
Hand would certainly make the team better, nobody can deny that. But you can’t spend your way out of a rebuild. So while the Mariners have money to spend, that doesn’t mean they should or need to. And as much as we want Mariners owner John Stanton to be better than his owners monopoly, we have no reason to suspect he is (yet).
Overall, adding Hand (even on a waiver claim) makes the organization better. The Mariners could even claim him, eat a portion of his salary, and swap him for a nice prospect. Basically, the MLB equivalent of a sign-and-trade. But if he clear waivers, the Mariners will face an uphill battle to sign him, but it might be a trek they want to take. Hand may be the best reliever on the market and unlike Liam Hendricks or Kirby Yates, you don’t need to overpay (or possibly lose draft picks) to add him to your roster.