In a rather stunning move, the Indians have placed closer Brad Hand on outright waivers, Zack Meisel of The Athletic reports (via Twitter). It’s a pure cost-cutting transaction from Cleveland, with the hope that another team places a claim on the left-hander, who has a $10MM club option on his current contract. Any club that claims Hand would be able to pick up that option and retain him for the 2021 season at that $10MM price.
Per Meisel, the Indians had planned to decline the option, which would’ve required paying a $1MM buyout. They’ll decline it if he goes unclaimed. However, Cleveland would stand to save that $1MM if another team makes a claim, which seems possible given Hand’s excellent 2020 season and generally strong track record.
Hand, 30, led the American League with 16 saves this year and posted a 22-to-4 K/BB ratio with a 2.05 ERA over the life of 22 innings. He had a few hiccups in the ninth inning early on, but Hand’s overall results fall right in line with his All-Star track record. Since being unearthed by the Padres on a waiver claim back in 2016, Hand owns a 2.70 ERA with 12.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 0.87 HR/9.
Waiver priority at this juncture is based on reverse order of the league-wide standings. That’d give the Pirates, Rangers, Tigers, Red Sox, D-backs, Orioles, Nationals, Mets, Rockies and Angels first crack at Hand, in that order. Most of those clubs are rebuilding or cutting costs themselves, but it’s feasible that a team like the Red Sox, Nats, Mets or Angels could place a claim with an eye toward contending in 2021.
Frankly, revenue losses notwithstanding, it’s arguable that any club should welcome the chance to bring Hand into the fold. There’s not a team that wouldn’t be bettered by adding a pitcher of this caliber to its relief corps, and the one-year, $10MM price point would be considered a bargain under normal market circumstances.
Of course, the absence of fans in 2020 has created what most expect to be a brutal market for free agents as clubs take drastic measures to cut payroll. As such, some clubs will surely pass on claiming Hand — maybe in hopes that he’ll go unclaimed and be available on a multi-year deal at a lower annual rate — but it’s hard to imagine that a hopeful contender won’t jump at the opportunity to acquire an elite bullpen price on a one-year term.
As for the Indians, this removes doubt about the club’s offseason direction. It’s long been expected that they’ll continue last winter’s efforts to pare back payroll, although not in such egregious fashion. The move to place Hand on waivers only seems to further the likelihood that Cleveland will trade superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor, whose salary could approach or exceed $20MM in his final trip through the arbitration process. That much has looked likely since owner Paul Dolan infamously told fans to “enjoy him” a few years back, but it now feels more inevitable than ever before.
Looking more broadly at the market as a whole, it’ll be of greater concern for free agents — relievers, in particular — across the game if Hand somehow passes through waivers unclaimed. If no club is willing to take on Hand at a one-year, $10MM term (or if he survives all the way to the Dodgers, who are last in waiver priority), that will speak volumes about market expectations in the months to come.