The SF Giants bullpen lacked a premium arm all season. After Cleveland placed closer Brad Hand on outright waivers, they have an opportunity to fix that. The question is, will they be too cheap to pull the trigger?
There are plenty of “What-Ifs” that could have pushed the SF Giants into the postseason this year. The vast majority surround the team’s bullpen. If manager Gabe Kapler had deployed these pitchers differently on this day, could it have made the difference? While we’ll never know the answer to those questions, going into this offseason, the Giants bullpen remains one of their most obvious offseason needs.
Sam Selman, Tyler Rogers, Tony Watson, Sam Coonrod, and Jarlin Garcia all had flashes in the back of the Giants pen in 2020, but nearly all were marred by inconsistency. Except for Watson, the Giants control every other reliever through at least next season.
While the unit was frustrating, it has the pieces to build a deep pen. They need just one more thing: a lockdown arm to handle the highest-leverage situations. On Thursday, just a few days into the offseason, the Giants already have the opportunity to add that final piece.
With ownership groups around the league pinching pennies, closer Brad Hand was placed on outright waivers by Cleveland. The team held a $10 million club option over Hand for the 2021 season with a $1 million buyout. Apparently, the team planned to decline the option and make Hand a free agent. By placing him on outright waivers though, every other team has the opportunity to claim Hand and exercise the $10 million option in his contract. If another team claims him, Cleveland will not have to pay the buyout in his contract.
Over the past five years, Hand has undoubtedly been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball. While splitting his time between Cleveland and San Diego, he’s recorded 104 saves and pitched to the tune of a 2.70 ERA. His peripherals have been just as dominant. Over 320 innings pitched, Hand has struck out 434 (12.2 strikeouts per nine innings), walked 106 (3.0 walks per nine), surrendered just 31 home runs (0.9 homers per nine), and posted a strong 2.92 FIP.
His 2020 season showed no significant decline in performance. In fact, he led the league in games finished (21) and saves (16) while posting a career-best 2.05 ERA and 1.37 FIP. Hand did struggle in his one postseason appearance, but he was far from alone on a pitching staff that posted a 11.00 postseason ERA.
With Watson likely departing in free agency, the Giants lost the only veteran in their bullpen with postseason and extensive closing experience. Hand does both. He’s also far younger and better on the mound than Watson.
In a normal offseason, exercising Hand’s option would have been a guarantee. If Cleveland wanted to clear payroll, they could still have expected to find a trade partner for him at that price point. They would have easily been able to recoup a solid prospect or possibly even a solid big-league piece.
All of that is out the window this year. With the current CBA set to expire following next season, owners are trying to put players in as weak a position as possible entering collective bargaining. The revenue declines caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have become the perfect justification to create more leverage against players.
While any team can place a claim on Hand, if multiple teams do, the team with the worst record this season will acquire his services. The Giants finished the season with the 14th worst record in baseball and so, only 13 teams can prevent them from acquiring Hand if they are willing to make a claim. Since most of the league’s worst teams have historically cheaper ownership groups, there are probably only three or four teams that would consider such a move.
Since Farhan Zaidi became the president of baseball operations in San Francisco, he’s helped the Giants offload salary and save payroll space at every turn. The moves were justified by the organization’s clear need to retool for sustainable long-term success. For the first time during his tenure, Zaidi has mentioned reaching the postseason as the organization’s goal in 2021.
Trying to transition from a rebuild to contention, fans should expect a greater willingness to spend. If they don’t see it, they have every right to be hypercritical of team ownership.
The fact is there is just no justifiable baseball reason to pass on claiming Hand. Even if things go south for the Orange-and-Black in the first half of next season, he would likely become a hot commodity at the trade deadline.
He will not turn 31-years old until March of 2021, but even if he regresses heavily, his contract has no guarantees beyond next season. The Giants have to make no long-term payroll comitments to bring him in. Essentially, the question is would San Francisco’s brass sign Brad Hand as a free agent to a one-year, $10 million contract. The answer should be a resounding yes.
Closers of Hand’s caliber at that price are rarely available without having to sacrifice a player or draft pick in return. In fact, closers routinely receive larger contracts through free agency and even, occasionally, through arbitration. The Giants themselves, have spent far larger sums on closers in the past.
In the context of Major League Baseball, $10 million is far from an astronomical amount of money. Charles B. Johnson, who owns less than 30% of the Giants, spent more than that on public donations to the Republican Party this election cycle alone.
The MLB offseason is underway, but the SF Giants already have a phenomenal opportunity to upgrade at one of their biggest positions of need. Brad Hand has been one of the best relief pitchers in baseball and could be acquired without surrendering a draft pick, long-term guarantees, or prospects. The question is, will team ownership allow Giants executives to bring on his $10 million salary?