In terms of on-field results, it hasn’t been a fruitful tenure in San Diego for general manager A.J. Preller, who hasn’t even overseen a .500 team since his hiring in 2014. But it was on this day four years ago that Preller made one of his best moves as the head of the club’s baseball department. On April 8, 2016, Preller’s Padres claimed left-handed reliever Brad Hand from the Marlins via waivers. It’s now fair to say the decision counts as one of the biggest steals of the past several years.
When the Padres put in their claim, Hand – a 2008 second-round pick and a then-26-year-old – had failed to distinguish himself as either a quality starter or a solid reliever. As a member of the Marlins, he totaled 90 appearances (43 starts) and 288 2/3 innings of 4.71 ERA/4.54 FIP ball with just 5.9 K/9 against 3.7 BB/9. The Marlins designated him for assignment as a result, but the light bulb immediately went on in San Diego in 2016, when he switched to a full-time relief role.
Owing in part to an increased reliance on his slider, Hand notched a 2.92 ERA/3.07 FIP with 11.18 K/9 and 3.63 BB/9 in 89 1/3 innings during his initial Padres season. The good times have kept rolling since then for Hand, who has earned three straight All-Star nods. Since the Marlins cut ties with him, Hand has logged a 2.75 ERA/3.04 FIP and 12.23 K/9 against 3.08 BB/9 across 298 frames. And he has cashed in along the way, having inked a three-year, $19.75MM guarantee in advance of the 2018 season. Odds are that Hand will collect another $10MM in 2021, as it’s difficult to see his employer turning down that reasonably priced option in favor of a $1MM buyout.
While the Padres were the ones who made that financial commitment to Hand, he’s no longer on their roster. After Hand generated significant trade interest from around the game, the Padres sold high on him in in July 2018. They sent him and fellow reliever Adam Cimber to Cleveland for catcher/outfielder Francisco Mejia, then one of the highest-ranked prospects in baseball.
Hand has been an effective closer for the Indians (Cimber struggled somewhat last year), whereas Mejia hasn’t quite lived up to the hype he drew in his younger days. However, that’s not to say Mejia is a lost cause by any means. The switch-hitting 24-year-old is coming off his first extensive action in the majors, where he batted a decent .265/.316/.438 (96 wRC+) with eight home runs in 244 plate appearances last season. Mejia did have difficulty behind the plate, throwing out only 17 percent of would-be base stealers and earning a below-average pitch-framing grade, though the Padres are no doubt still hopeful that he’ll emerge as their long-term solution at catcher. Even if he doesn’t, it’s hard to argue with the value they received in the Hand trade, and it never would have happened had they not made the wise decision to grab him off the waiver wire four years back.