Indians Place Hand on Outright Waivers

Let the salary slashing commence?

In what may be an ominous sign in the peak of spooky season, the Cleveland Indians placed one of the American League’s top relievers in 2020, closer Brad Hand, on outright waivers on Thursday in what could only be viewed as a cost-cutting measure by the organization.

First reported by The Athletic’s Zack Meisel, the left-handed reliever will now be available to the remaining 29 clubs around baseball. One of the Indians’ seven nominees for this year’s All MLB Team, Hand was a likely candidate to be dealt in the offseason as one of the highest paid players on the roster, but this was not the expected scenario for his removal from the team’s 40-man roster. The Indians held a $10 million team option for the last year of his deal for the 2021 season, while his contract stipulated that Hand would receive a $1 million buyout in the event that the team opted not to tender him the deal for next year.

If Hand goes unclaimed, he will hit the open market with the Indians declining the option and paying him the $1 million to leave. In the event that Hand is claimed by another team, the Indians will be off of the hook for the buyout as that new club would presumably be placing the waiver claim with the intent to extend him for 2021. While many of the teams at the top of the waiver order are in salary cutting and/or rebuilding modes, some teams in the middle and bottom of that list may be interested in one of the better closers in the game today and could swoop in to pick him up. If he goes unclaimed, it may be a clear indication of the financial ramifications of a shortened season lacking fans in ball parks around the country.

Even with the occasionally inconsistent track record for Hand, he was one of the game’s best closers in 2020. In the pandemic-shortened season, he made 23 appearances and led the American League with 21 games finished. He earned a 2-1 record while going a perfect 16-for-16 in save situations, the top mark in the Majors. He added in a career-best 2.05 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP. His 11.9 strikeouts per nine innings were not far removed from the numbers that he has generated since moving into full time relief work back in 2016, while his 5.3 hits and 1.6 walks per nine innings were both new personal bests over his ten-year career.

Hand – Jason Miller/Getty Images

A second round pick by Florida in the 2008 draft, Hand reached the Majors in 2011 with the Marlins, splitting time between the rotation and bullpen over five MLB seasons with the club. He was claimed off of waivers by the San Diego Padres at the beginning of the 2016 season and transformed himself into one of the best relievers in the game. He was an All-Star for the Padres in 2017 and 2018, and just days after that latter appearance, he was dealt by San Diego with sidewinder Adam Cimber to Cleveland for top prospect Francisco Mejia.

Hand’s debut in the Tribe bullpen paired him up with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller, who were both entering free agency that offseason. Hand set up and closed in his 28 games in the second half of that season, going 0-1 with a 2.28 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP with eight saves and seven holds. He was an All-Star for the third straight season in 2019, earning a 4-3 record and 23 saves in the first half of the season, but an abysmal second half skewed his overall numbers, leaving him with a 6-4 record with a 3.30 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP, and 34 saves in 39 chances for the campaign before he was shut down in September with a tired arm.

While the Indians will wait for the status of Hand to play out, the pre-Halloween salary slashing already taking place at the Tribe’s Progressive Field front offices does not bode well for those hoping for a long-term marriage between the club and star shortstop Francisco Lindor. As it stands, he is expected to earn upwards of $21.5 million in his final season of arbitration (according to estimates by Baseball Reference) and he is all but guaranteed to be playing for the highest trade bidder next season. It also may spell the end of times in Cleveland for Carlos Santana and Carlos Carrasco. Santana is due to make $17.5 million next year if the Indians pick up the option on the final season of his contract, but that seems unlikely after a tough year at the plate. He will turn 35 early in the 2021 season. Carrasco is slated to earn $12 million in each of the 2021 and 2022 seasons before a $14 million team option for 2023, but he turns 34 at the end of spring training and could be deemed expendable between his age, salary commitment, and the number of cheaper, controllable young starting arms among the team’s wealth of pitching depth.

In addition to the removal of Hand, the Indians have lost second baseman Cesar Hernandez, reserve catcher Sandy Leon, and reliever Oliver Perez this week as the trio entered into free agency on Wednesday.

Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

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