The Cleveland Indians took a potential trade target of the Boston Red Sox off the table when they acquired Brad Hand from the Padres. What’s next?
The Boston Red Sox could only stand by and watch as one of the top relief pitchers on the market was traded to a rival for a price they couldn’t hope to compete with.
The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal reports that the Cleveland Indians have acquired All-Star closer Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres. Right-handed reliever Adam Cimber is also heading to Cleveland in the deal.
Boston had no chance of competing with that offer. Blake Swihart was once viewed as a catching prospect of that caliber. We would need a time machine to go back to the days when he could headline a package that would top Cleveland’s. The Red Sox refused to part with Swihart when he had value a few years ago. Now he’s toiling away on their bench as a utility option who may or may not be a catcher.
The Red Sox farm system doesn’t have a prospect rated higher than No. 63. That would be third basemen Michael Chavis, whose stock has plummeted following a PED suspension earlier this year. Left-handed pitcher Jay Groome is ranked No. 76 but hasn’t pitched this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. No other Red Sox prospects made the top-100 list.
Cleveland gave up a lot to acquire Hand for good reason. The two-time All-Star is signed to a team-friendly deal that pays him a total just north of $14.5 million over the next two seasons. Plus a $10 million team option for 2021. Cleveland could lose both Cody Allen and Andrew Miller to free agency this winter. Hand offers them a replacement at closer who is locked up for potentially three more years. This allowed San Diego to aim high.
The Red Sox are in a similar situation with Craig Kimbrel heading for free agency. They are seeking a top-notch reliever who can pair with Kimbrel to form a two-headed monster at the back of the bullpen. One who they can keep beyond this season as insurance in case Kimbrel bolts. That’s going to be harder to do now that Cleveland has set the bar for stud relievers with multiple years of control left on their contracts.
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Boston may need to settle for a rental on the relief market. A pitcher on the verge of free agency who carries some warts may be all they can afford. Someone like Zach Britton. The Baltimore Orioles closer has missed significant time the last two years with an Achilles injury and is struggling with his control since his return. Britton carries high upside but isn’t without risk. He also wouldn’t be a solution beyond this year.
Next year is a problem we can worry about later. What about this season?
The Red Sox can’t be thrilled to see another contender loading up. Cleveland will stroll into the postseason by winning a water-down AL Central division. While they appear to be a step behind the top tier in the league, this is a team that won 102 games last year. The Indians have a loaded lineup and one of the strongest starting rotations in baseball. Their one weakness was a bullpen that ranks next to last with a collective 5.28 ERA. Cleveland’s core of relievers looks much stronger with Hand and Cimber in the mix.
The Indians are a team the Red Sox may need to worry about facing in the postseason. The Tribe knocked Boston out of the playoffs in 2016, in part because of Terry Francona‘s management of a lights-out bullpen. Now that Cleveland has a deeper bullpen to work with they could be just as dangerous this October.
The Indians are the first AL contender to make a significant move before the trade deadline but they won’t be the last. The Red Sox can turn the tide back in their favor with a move of their own. It may not be for a player as valuable as Hand but they could still add a difference-maker. Your move, Dave Dombrowski.