Tribe Bolsters Bullpen, Trades Mejia for Padres’ Hand and Cimber
Bob Toth | On 19, Jul 2018
Speculation on the long term plans in Cleveland for catcher/outfielder Francisco Mejia finally came to an end on Thursday morning as the Indians dealt their top prospect to the San Diego Padres for All-Star reliever Brad Hand and rookie right-hander Adam Cimber.
Both pitchers are expected to report to the Indians by Friday in time for the second half opener with the Texas Rangers from Arlington.
Mejia’s uncertain place in the organization made him expendable. A top performer at the plate for years, his primary catching position was blocked by All-Star Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez, both heralded for their defensive work. Mejia, best known for his offensive work, had been unable to squeeze one of the mainstays from their holds on the catching duties.
Mejia will give the Padres ten different prospects rated on MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 list. He appeared in one game for the Indians this season before the All-Star break in his second call-up of the season, drawing a pair of walks in four trips to the plate. He worked in 11 games for the club last September in his first stint in the Majors, going 2-for-13 with two singles and a walk.
The blockbuster trade marks the second time in three years that the Indians have tapped into their farm system and dealt top players for relief help. The bullpen has been the Indians’ Achilles’ heel this season, as the team has suffered with the absence of the reliable and largely predictable results from Bryan Shaw, who exited town via free agency last offseason and was not replaced. Andrew Miller has fought injuries since late April, while many of the heavier lifters in the relief corps have struggled in uncertain roles in the bullpen while trying to fill all of the noticeable voids.
Hand, 28, is in his eighth season in the Majors and his third year as a full-time reliever. A second round pick out of high school by the Florida Marlins in 2008, he made his debut on the mound for the Fish in 2011. He spent five years on the Marlins roster, working regularly as a starter and a reliever, but he has since transformed himself into one of the top relievers in baseball.
The left-hander led the Majors in appearances in his first season in San Diego in 2016, the first time that he was used exclusively out of the bullpen. He posted a 4-4 record in 82 games with a 2.92 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP, and an 11.2 strikeout per nine rate. He was named an All-Star in 2017, posting career-bests in ERA (2.16), saves (21), FIP (3.03), WHIP (0.93), and K/9 (11.8).
He was named an All-Star for the second straight season this year. He has already saved a career-high 24 games this season in 29 overall chances in 41 games while posting a 2-4 record with a 3.05 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and a 13.2 strikeout per nine rate.
Cimber, 27, is a 6’4” right-hander who broke camp with the Padres for the first time this season. He was a ninth round pick in the 2013 draft out of the University of San Francisco after beginning his collegiate career at the University of Washington.
He is a submarine style pitcher who has posted a 3-5 record in 42 games this season with a 3.17 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP. He has struck out 51 batters and walked ten in his 48 1/3 innings of work. He spent each of the three previous minor league seasons with the Padres’ Double-A and Triple-A affiliates.
“Trades like this are always difficult to make,” said Cleveland’s President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti following the announcement of the trade. “We parted with a guy that we think has a chance to be a really good Major League player in Francisco, but we feel we’re adding players to our bullpen that will not only impact our team for 2018, but for years to come.”
This season, the Indians rank 29th out of 30 teams in bullpen ERA (5.28 in their 91 games of work). The staff as a whole has combined to go 6-16 with a .254 batting average against and a 1.32 WHIP. Manager Terry Francona’s lacking trust in the group may be most evident in their MLB-low 257 1/3 innings of work this season, 23 2/3 innings fewer than the Houston Astros. The Cleveland relievers have walked the second-fewest number of batters this season (84), but they have also struck out the second-fewest number of batters (250). The ‘pen has surrendered the fourth-most homers in baseball.
The trade, while aiding the club in its pursuits of a third straight trip to the postseason, also help in the long term. Hand is under contract through the 2020 season with a team option of 2021 for $10 million with a $1 million buyout, giving the team almost three and a half years with the southpaw at a very team-friendly rate for a top flight reliever. Cimber will be able to provide the Indians with five and a half years of time as he is just 42 games into his Major League career. He will not be eligible for arbitration until after the 2020 season and will be under Cleveland’s control until the end of the 2023 season.
Photo: Denis Poroy/Getty Images