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Oakland A’s free agency: Would Brad Hand be a good target?

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The A’s need a closer, and he’s one of the best

Wild Card Round - New York Yankees v Cleveland Indians - Game Two Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The Oakland A’s are saying goodbye to 10 free agents this winter, and one of the most impactful losses is closer Liam Hendriks.

The 2020 AL Reliever of the Year was the only member of the team who got MVP votes this year, and his 9th-inning dominance the last two seasons has been an enormous part of the club’s recent success. However, he figures to get a fairly hefty contract, and so far nobody is predicting the money will come from Oakland.

In addition to Hendriks, the A’s are also losing Joakim Soria and Yusmeiro Petit, who comprised most of the late-inning relief corps. All that remains now is lefty Jake Diekman, who is best cast as a setup man in the 7th or 8th inning.

That means Oakland needs some bullpen help. There are lots of interesting lotto tickets on the 40-man roster already, but another reliable name to anchor the group would go a long way. And if you’re going to spend money on a reliever — which you should almost never do — then at least make it one of the best.

As chance would have it, one of the best is available this winter, and the early signs are that his services might not be prohibitively expensive. The Cleveland Indians held a $10 million option on Brad Hand, but chose not to exercise it. What’s more, instead of simply declining it, they first waived him to see if anyone would pick him up (and save them paying the option’s buyout). None of the other 29 teams bit on Hand at that price, for a 1yr/$10m deal.

That development is at least somewhat surprising. There are seven relievers slated to make eight figures in 2021, led by Kenley Jansen at $20 million, so we’re not talking about any kind of record-breaking salary. And Brad has been one of the steadiest hands in the majors for the last half-decade when it comes to the 9th inning, earning him three All-Star berths. From 2016-20, his ERA rose above 3.00 only once (3.30), and his FIP never went higher than 3.20. His overall numbers during that span, in 306 games:

Hand, 2016-20: 2.70 ERA, 320 ip, 434 Ks, 106 BB, 31 HR, 2.92 FIP

Those are brilliant stats, maintained consistently over a surprisingly long time for a reliever. He’s also saved 104 games during that time, with 48 more holds, against 23 blown (86.9% success, excellent), and this summer he led the majors in saves without blowing any. Over the last five years combined, he ranks third among all relievers in WPA, and in the top 5th percentile on Statcast with a .271 xwOBA.

By any measure, Hand is an elite closer. His velocity was down slightly in 2020, but it clearly didn’t hinder him, and at age 31 next summer there’s no reason to think he’s running out of gas. And apparently he’s going to make less than $10 million next year. Is there a potential match here?

To be clear, there are no actual rumors tying Hand to Oakland. We’re just talking here. But if there’s one free agent demographic the A’s have been effective at luring in recent years, it’s veteran relief pitchers, even good ones who are in demand. It’s not a crazy proposition, and they’ve spent notable money before on far less impressive names.

Even speaking as somebody who doesn’t like to invest money into bullpens, the A’s should really add one impact reliever this winter if they want to seriously contend in 2021. A closer if they can swing it. If that’s going to cost a few bucks anyway, might it be worth going all the way for one of the most reliable closers in the league? That would be a great way to lessen the sting of losing Hendriks, Soria, and Petit.

Hendriks is the best closer in the majors right now, and for the last two years combined. That is a measurable fact at this point. But Hand is in the conversation for the best over the last five years combined, and he’s still toward the top today. That kind of airtight track record could be extra valuable to a small-budget team like the A’s, who need to be particularly careful when they do spend.

What do you think, Athletics Nation? Would Hand be a wise target for the A’s? Or are there other ways they’d be better served to spend whatever money they might have available this winter? Would it be a problem for both the closer (Hand) and setup man (Diekman) to be lefties? What other available relievers do you like instead, or do you want to just roll the dice with the incumbent in-house crew? To the comments!

Poll

Should the A’s pursue Brad Hand in free agency?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Yes! Great, efficient target
    (269 votes)
  • 21%
    No, he’s cool but I prefer other targets
    (76 votes)
  • 4%
    No, not interested at all
    (16 votes)
361 votes total Vote Now