As a cost-cutting measure at the end of the 2020 season, Cleveland put Brad Hand on outright waivers, and not a single team claimed him. The left-handed reliever, who was one of the best bullpen arms in baseball over the last five years, was due to make $10 million in 2021, the final year of his contract. And, like Cleveland, not a single team thought that Hand would be worth that money, and passed.
Until, a few months later, the Nationals signed him to a deal worth [checks notes] $10.5 million. The Mets, who said that they would have claimed him had Sandy Alderson and Steve Cohen been making the decisions while Hand was on waivers, were in on Hand as well, but he reportedly wanted to close, and so went with Washington instead.
Our Vasilis Drimalitis summed up Hand’s early career nicely earlier this season:
After spending the first five years of his career with the Marlins, who drafted him in the second round in the 2008 MLB Draft, Hand ended up with the Padres in 2016. It was there that he established himself as one of the better relievers in the league. He was an All Star in 2017 and 2018 for San Diego before getting traded to Cleveland in the Francisco Mejia deal. He was an All Star again in 2019 while posting a career-best 34 saves, and then led the AL with 16 saves while posting a career-best 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP in 2020.
With a pedigree like that, it seems insane that no one took the $10 million chance on having an All-Star closer on their team. It turns out, all 30 teams were more right than wrong when they passed on Hand, as he did not look like a $10 million player at any point in 2021. By the time the Mets claimed him off of waivers, 11 months after missing the opportunity to do just that, Hand was damaged goods, and brought in as a lottery ticket for some depth.
Despite his ineffectiveness in Washington (where he was not very good) and Toronto (where he was downright bad) on his way to the Mets, Hand looked less terrible while pitching in blue and orange (and, irritatingly, black). Over 16 appearances, Hand allowed seven runs to score, giving up 12 hits and five walks in 13.1 innings pitched. He struck out 14, but allowed five of six inherited runners to score. It wasn’t a stellar performance by any means, but he seemed to, somewhat, stem the tide from his terrible first five months of the season.
This is a rare case where everyone was right to pass on a guy who had, up until that point, been a successful closer on a good team. Cleveland put him on waivers to save $10 million, and, while they were lambasted for being so cheap, it seems like that was the right choice to make.
Relief pitching is such a volatile endeavor that it would not be surprising if whoever signs Hand this offseason, likely for a fraction of his 2021 contract, gets a steal, and Hand is quite good again. Now, his fastball didn’t seem to have the same life in 2021, and he will be entering his age 32 season, so Hand’s best days may be behind him. But a lefty will pitch forever in the majors, and so don’t be surprised if Hand is pitching for - or against - the Mets in 2022.