A closer is a luxury for a losing major-league baseball club. And say whatever you want about the San Diego Padres, they seem to grasp this.
The Padres haven’t made the playoffs since 2006, and the Friars haven’t even had a winning record since 2010. They’re currently buried in the NL West standings, 14.5 games out. It’s an extensive rebuild here. It’s a long road to relevance.
With that in mind, Thursday’s trade of left-handed reliever Brad Hand made sense. San Diego shipped Hand, its closer, to the Indians. Righty reliever Adam Cimber also packs for Cleveland, while the Padres get a sparkling catching prospect in Francisco Mejia.
Hand wasn’t just the Padres closer the last two years, he was the team’s best player in 2017 (2.16 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 21 saves, 2.9 bWAR). He’s been less effective in the surface stats this year (3.05 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) though his FIP is about the same. He’s already rung up 24 handshakes in 2018.
Hand’s role could go a number of ways in Cleveland. Cody Allen is ostensibly the closer there, though he did have an ugly six-run appearance shortly before the All-Star break. Hand could see some traditional save opportunities, perhaps specific matchup save work, or maybe just work as a rover before the ninth inning, the old “Andrew Miller role.” And of course, the Tribe is also waiting on the original Miller (knee) — he’s expected to return early in the second half.
No matter the names, Cleveland certainly needed bullpen upgrades. The Tribe has a 5.28 ERA in relief; only Kansas City is worse.
Kirby Yates is the key reliever left standing in the Padres bullpen, and for the moment he’s the fantasy guy to get, the expected closer. He’s been San Diego’s most valuable bWAR man this year, a virtual lawnmower (1.43 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 48 K against 11 BB over 37.2 innings).
But Yates is also 31, and remember what we said up front — a closer is a luxury for a non-contender. Perhaps Yates will be traded later this month, too (the Yankees were linked to Hand and Yates before the All-Star break). The Padres should at least try to shop every non-essential piece. As dominant as Yates has been this year, he’s a journeyman reliever with a career 4.13 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. San Diego would be cashing in, theoretically, at the best time.
With Hand and Cimber gone, and Yates perhaps on the block too, proactive save-chasers might want to think about Craig Stammen. Another journeyman, the 34-year-old Stammen has a 2.91 ERA and 1.17 WHIP, with better than a strikeout per inning. Perhaps he’d get a chance in the ninth if Yates can’t handle the job, or is traded later this summer.