As I am writing this, it is 1:02 PM PST and the trade deadline has come and gone without any Padres trades. Well except for the trade that sent Brandon Maurer, Trevor Cahill, and Ryan Buchter to the Royals for Travis Wood, Matt Strahm, and Estuery Ruiz, but you already knew about that. But the big trade that everyone anticipated, the Brad Hand deal that would net the Padres a few solid prospects, failed to materialize. According to Ken Rosenthal on Twitter, the Padres elected to hold onto Hand.
Sources: #Padres holding Brad Hand.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 31, 2017
So here we sit on July 31 with Brad Hand still a San Diego Padre. Did the Padres make a mistake holding onto Hand? Or was this the right move for the future of the franchise? That’s a rather tricky pair of questions to answer, so let’s dig a little deeper and dissect the thinking of the Padres’ front office.
From the beginning, it was clear the Padres had a high asking price for Hand, as well they should given his performance over the last year and a half. I have talked about his performance on several occasions but it still bears repeating. On the year, Hand has thrown 54 innings over his 49 appearances, striking out 33 percent of hitters while walking less than seven percent. On top of that, Hand sports a shiny 2.00 ERA with a 2.52 FIP to go along with it. Even more importantly, Hand has excelled in the closer role for the Padres since Brandon Maurer was dealt early last week. All in all, it was clear that Hand was having a great year and was showing himself to be an immensely valuable reliever.
So why didn’t anyone take A.J. Preller’s bait and make a deal? Well there could be a variety of reasons for that. On top of everything else, Hand just doesn’t have the track record or shine that similar relievers, such as Andrew Miller, Aroldis Chapman, and Zach Britton, have. Sure, his numbers have been somewhat comparable over the last two seasons, but he doesn’t throw upper-90s and he wasn’t closing out ball games before this last week. As cliche as it sounds, teams still do care about those two things when looking for relief pitching help.
However, with all this in mind, did the Padres set their asking price too high? While arguments could be made that the Padres did set the price too high, I would have to disagree. With over two years of team control remaining, and a chance for his value to improve if he continues to excel in the closer role in the second half, there was no need for the Padres to pull the trigger. Sure, you run the risk of Hand getting injured or seeing a downturn in his performance, but at the end of the day, he still has a whole two years of team control remaining. Given the volatility of a majority of relievers, team control just doesn’t seem to play that much into the calculus of other teams when deciding what a player is “worth” in a trade.
If A.J. Preller was demanding a top-100 prospect, and not budging at all from that demand, then it makes sense why a move was not made. Based on other moves that were made, it seems like teams just weren’t willing to pay big for a bullpen upgrade as they were in years past. Sure, the Chicago Cubs made a semi-big deal for left-hander Justin Wilson from the Detroit Tigers, but the addition of Alex Avila somewhat muddied the prospect price in that deal. It was also clear the Cubs didn’t really have any place for Jeimer Candelario to play, so they lacked the kind of leverage they may have had otherwise. By contrast, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in acquiring Tony Watson and Tony Cingrani, and Houston Astros, in acquiring Francisco Liriano, decided instead to make smaller moves to improve their bullpen rather than pay the high prospect price that was associated with either of Hand or Zach Britton. On top of that, the Washington Nationals, who were another team with interest in upgrading their relief corps, elected to instead acquire Brandon Kintzler from the Minnesota Twins, once again showing that contenders were looking for cheaper prices.
So where does this leave the San Diego Padres? At this point, that remains unclear. A.J. Preller and company are probably hoping that Hand continues to excel for the rest of the season, now as the closer, and the Padres can extract the kind of return they want this offseason. For those who remember, a very similar strategy played out during the 2015 trade deadline, when the Padres held onto Craig Kimbrel but then pulled the trigger on a move during the offseason. That move netted them the package of Manuel Margot, Carlos Asuaje, Logan Allen, and Javier Guerra, a move which has worked out well for the Padres so far. You have to think the Padres are hoping for a similar set of circumstances with Hand.
However, there is a great deal of risk in this strategy, as I mentioned above. Hand could get hurt, he could stop pitching as well as he has been, and his value could fall precipitously from where it currently sits. Even so, if the price just wasn’t right today, it’s a defensible move to hold onto Hand, take that risk, and hope for the best. It’s not always going to work out in your favor, Tyson Ross for example, but sometimes you need to take on risk in order to see a big reward. And that’s just what the Padres are hoping for from Brad Hand.