Brad Hand has hit a bit of a rough patch in June.
He’s been touched up to the tune of five runs in his past four outings, including a pair of blown saves against Oakland and San Francisco. His ERA has risen from 1.78 to 2.82 in only 11 days. This recent performance has undoubtedly complicated an already complex situation regarding his future with the ballclub.
Hand’s body of work in San Diego over two-plus seasons certainly outweighs a tough two-week stretch.
He has proven to be an elite closer in this league, and that doesn’t change based on a couple bad outings. It is also important to note that Hand started the 2018 campaign in a similar fashion, giving up eight runs (albeit only two of them were earned) over his first four outings. Regardless of the defensive miscues, however, he was clearly missing spots and creating opportunities for the offense that otherwise would not have been there. But guess what? He rebounded in a big way, tossing 8.1 scoreless innings directly following his three-run, three-walk outing against Colorado on April 5. He had since produced top-tier-closer results until his recent hiccup.
It’s no secret that Hand has been a topic of trade discussions for well over a year now, and A.J. Preller surprised a lot of people by holding on to him at last year’s deadline. Preller’s asking price has been notoriously high for Hand for quite some time, and for good reason.
Teams will not deal a top-level prospect for an inconsistent closer. If a team were to move someone like that, they would have to be absolutely sure that they are getting a sure-fire elite bullpen arm who can be relied upon in high-leverage situations in October. One “rough patch” like Hand is experiencing currently can send a great team packing in the postseason. For example, there has been speculation that a player such as Rafael Devers would be included in a package sending Hand to Boston for their postseason push. The Red Sox are not going to trade away a player as valuable as Devers for closer with an ERA pushing 3.00. It’s just not going to happen. Which brings me to my final point…
This recent cold stretch can be looked at two different ways, and they both depend on how Hand responds over the next month. If he is able to bounce back and prove once again that he’s an elite closer capable of cutting through the heart of postseason lineups at a consistent rate, the last two weeks shouldn’t do too much damage to his trade value. In that scenario, a player like Devers could possibly be attainable. However, if Hand continues to struggle, Preller is going to have no choice but to lower the price tag significantly. His team-friendly contract that runs through 2021 could lead to Preller scrapping the idea of trading him entirely and simply holding on to him. The problem there, however, is that a Hand trade at the 2019 deadline would not fit into the Padres’ organizational timeline. Ideally, 2019 would be the year that they move away from the “seller” mentality and start looking to legitimately compete in the NL West and beyond. But a closer doesn’t have much value to a non-contending ballclub, which is exactly what the 2018 Padres are. Young, star-potential talent is much more valuable to this team as it’s presently constructed. There lies the dilemma that will need to be resolved from now until July 31.
It’s going to be a tough decision for Preller either way, but how Brad Hand fares over the next month will hopefully provide the clarity needed to make such a franchise-altering decision.