After the dominos fell in the Manny Machado trade, the Cleveland Indians wasted no time making their own pre-deadline trade. On Thursday, they acquired lefty reliever Brad Hand and righty reliever Adam Cimber from the San Diego Padres. In exchange, they sent back catcher Francisco Mejia, one of the top prospects in all of baseball.
That’s a steep price to pay for two relievers, but the Indians desperately need relief help if they hope to make it far in the playoffs — or even just to the end of the season while still in first place.
The Indians bullpen has been a disaster
Cleveland needed Hand and Cimber because their 2018 bullpen has been one of the worst in baseball. That’s not hyperbole — their relievers have a combined 5.28 ERA, which ranks 29th in baseball. Their bullpen has given up 49 home runs, more than just three other teams.
The reasons aren’t sneaky or hard to find. It’s simply because the guys they’ve depended on for the last few years are either injured or struggling. Closer Cody Allen has a 4.66 ERA, four losses, and he’s giving up home runs at a higher rate than he ever has. Dan Otero, who has been lights out for the Indians in the past, has a 5.60 ERA and is also giving up more home runs than ever. Zach McAllister’s ERA has more than doubled since last year (it’s currently 5.65) and his home run rate is also up.
But the key to all of this might be Andrew Miller, Cleveland’s excellent multi-inning set-up guy. He was the breakout star of the 2016 playoffs, but he’s been on the disabled list since the end of May with knee inflammation, and before that was dealing with back issues and was not pitching well. If Miller was healthy and productive, that would take some of the weight off of Otero, McAllister, and even Allen.
Brad Hand and Adam Cimber will provide relief for the relievers
Miller is on a rehab assignment and is expected to come off the disabled list soon, but that wasn’t going to solve all of Cleveland’s problems. The team needed a hand from the outside, and that’s just what they got. With Brad Hand. (Do you get it? Do you? I’ll show myself out.) Hand came up with the Miami Marlins in 2011 (when they were still the Florida Marlins), but didn’t break out until the Padres claimed him off waivers at the start of the 2016 season. Since then, he’s posted a 2.66 ERA with a 3.24 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and has become one of the best left-handed relievers in baseball.
Adam Cimber isn’t as well known as Hand, but he’s been more than solid for the Padres. He made his debut earlier in the season, and has a 3.17 ERA and just 10 walks in 42 appearances.
Despite Allen’s troubles this season, it’s doubtful that Hand will replace him as closer. Which means he can enter games whenever and put out fires with strikeouts, which is just what the Indians — and their cast of beleaguered relievers — need right now. Miller probably won’t be back to his normal innings load for a little while after returning, so Hand and Cimber can pick up the slack and take some of the pressure off of Otero and McAllister.
The Indians are looking beyond the regular season
This trade was partially about the regular season. The Indians have a 7.5-game lead on the Minnesota Twins in the American League Central, which is still close enough that a good week or a bad week could have the Twins breathing down the Indians’ neck. Shoring up their bullpen could help prevent that, and even make it easier to add to their lead.
But this trade is mostly about the playoffs. A bullpen that’s second-worst in all of baseball just isn’t going to cut it in the postseason. A team can afford to blow a save every now and then in the regular season, but not in the playoffs, when every single game matters. If Hand and Cimber can provide some stability, the Indians look a lot better in the playoffs. And we know what the Indians can do in the playoffs with a good bullpen.
But Cleveland is looking beyond even the 2018 postseason. Both Miller and Allen are free agents at the end of the season, and neither are expected to re-sign with the Indians. But the Indians’ new relievers are a bit more controllable. Hand is signed through 2020 at just over $7 million a year, and has a $10 million team option for 2021. As far as established closers go, Hand is a steal. Cimber made his major league debut in 2018, so he has years of team control left at just the minimum MLB salary.
The Indians had to give up Francisco Mejia, one of their top hitting prospects, to get Hand and Cimber, a loss that they’ll probably feel in the next year or so. But Cleveland needs help right now, and that’s what these new relievers get them. And with Miller returning, their bullpen could act completely differently than it did in the first half — at least that’s what the Indians are hoping.
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