Precedents are a funny thing in baseball, especially when it comes to trades. Once a deal is made that features certain parameters, that supposedly sets the market for other swaps. That baseball tenet, combined with the bottoming-out Padres badly needing high-impact young talent if they hope to successfully rebuild, has triggered some big demands for reliever Brad Hand.
Granted, Hand is in the midst of an impressive season. The 27-year-old left-hander ranks fourth among all NL relievers in innings pitched. He also ranks in the top 10 for strikeout rate, whiffing nearly one-third of the batters he’s faced this year. He’s held opponents scoreless in each of his past 12 appearances, and just made his first All-Star team.
Now consider how Hand became a Padre: The Marlins cut him loose at the start of the 2016 season, so San Diego snagged him for nothing more than the cost of a waiver claim. That makes general manager A.J. Preller's reported asking price for Hand shockingly high.
Other teams say that for now, the Padres are looking for a return on lefty Brad Hand similar to what the Phillies got for Ken Giles.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 15, 2017
That doesn’t mean Hand can’t be a quality pickup for a bullpen-needy contender. His combination of durability and sky-high strikeout rate is rare for a reliever, even more so for a lefty. Plus he can’t test free agency until after the 2019 season. But reliever pitchers are the most volatile commodities in baseball, combining the inherent injury risks that accompany any pitcher with a skill set that makes them inherently risky. Most relief pitchers are failed starters who’ve had to settle for lesser responsibilities in the pen. That’s how waiver claims become All-Stars, and how All-Stars can pitch their way off a roster.
It’s still worth Preller’s while to aim high, given the gigantic prices paid for a few relievers in the past few years, even in this analytically-savvy era of baseball. If one team does take the bait and empties its farm system to get a guy unwanted by a lousy team just 15 months ago, imagine how much the next reliever coming off three and a half months of solid work might fetch.