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Brad Hand to Indians - Fantasy Implications

News broke on July 19 that Padres closer Brad Hand will be moving to the shores of Lake Erie and donning the home blue of the Cleveland baseball club. In a move that many predicted, but that no one actually saw happening, the Cleveland bullpen adds not only the lefty but also another useful piece in Adam Cimber. In a weird, deja vu move the Cleveland front office has now once again traded a top prospect for a reliever, and a lefty reliever at that.  

The news is significant in that a top 15 prospect is heading to San Diego, and a top player in coming back, but what is the real impact for fantasy teams?  Even if this takes Cleveland to the playoffs, there still needs to be a fantasy pay-off for this to even matter.  Mejia looks to have been blocked in Cleveland so at least owners might get to see him play this way.  

This article will reflect on a few pieces of the deal, but also will look to compare this deal to the Andrew Miller deal from a few years back.  What has changed in the landscape and how does this matter moving forward?  How should owners view this trade?  What does this all really mean?

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Fantasy Implications

Andrew Miller vs. Brad Hand

To begin, Andrew Miller is an elite bullpen arm, and at the time of his deal to Cleveland, perhaps the best in the Majors. In return, the major pieces were Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. At the time, both could have been considered top 100 prospects, but neither was ranked as highly as Francisco Mejia is today. Ben Heller was another name in that deal, and while undergoing Tommy John surgery this year, also looked to have some value out of the pen. Frazier has struggled to find playing time, whereas Sheffield seems to be close to big league ready and flashed signs at the Futures game. In return for Miller, the Yankees added three major league pieces, even if the ceiling might not be comparable to Mejia.    

What makes the Hand trade even more interesting is the contract situation. Miller was signed for an additional two years and perhaps will be leaving Cleveland after this season. Injuries might change that, but Hand serves as a cost-effective replacement for a team that fights money more than most. What this means is that even if Miller does walk, Cleveland has a power lefty ready to go as his replacement. The other critical piece is that Hand has 2.5 years left on his deal which will expire at the end of the 2020 season, and this is the same contract that Miller had when he joined the team.  The cost-controlled Hand also makes it more likely that Cody Allen returns, helping fantasy owners by knowing that the Cleveland bullpen will be loaded heading into next season, at least at the back.  

While it is impossible to compare trades on their face, the logical conclusion from this deal is that relievers are just as valuable on the trade market with fewer prospects but more prospect girth heading in return for Hand.  If anything Hand is a slightly less attractive pitcher than Miller was, but still brings back good value.  For fantasy owners, this means that in leagues where owners can grab players who have been traded (AL/NL only leagues for most) the ability to add a valuable piece at the deadline to jumpstart a rebuild comes from adding that bullpen piece.  Even more, it does not seem like Cody Allen will be leaving the closer role, and therefore this is the cost for adding another “Miller” in the bullpen. Hand might lose value in the short term but will add Ks from matchups.  Lefties are batting just .146 against him this year, whereas right-handers are hitting .229. Better matchups mean more outs, Ks, and all the rest that comes with solid bullpen ratios.    

Comparing the two lefties is hard with Miller’s injury but taking last year as the sample size, there are a lot of overlaps in the profile.  In 2017 Hand pitched in 72 games to Miller’s 57, and struck out fewer batters, 11.8 K/9, compared to Miller’s 13.64 K/9. The only category where Hand outperformed Miller was with walks as he allowed 2.27 BB/9 to Miller’s 3.02.  While Miller was the best of the two pitchers in 2017, there is not a dropoff that should worry Cleveland fans as the bullpen just added another impact arm.  

In the short term, this helps the stock of Cleveland starters like Trevor Bauer, who has pitched well but has lost games due to the bullpen, as well as allows Allen to get to more save opportunities.  In the regular season do not expect Hand and Miller to pitch in the same games, but to offer a similar role with rest for the other. This means more leads get to the ninth and more wins for pitchers.  The downside might be fewer innings from the starters as the team can count more on the bullpen to not blow leads.  At the end of the day though, this keeps pitchers healthy so all in all a good plan.  Hand will offer hidden benefits to Cleveland starters so now Bauer's breakout will have even more support.  Carry this over to Shane Bieber, Adam Plutko, and the rest to really see the fantasy impact. More Hand means more wins, and with that, more fantasy points. It appears to be a win-win for all.

Mejia’s impact

The big question with Mejia, and perhaps why Cleveland was willing to deal him, is will he stick at catcher?  The Padres already have an elite defensive backstop in Austin Hedges, and if he can put it all together, could be an elite catcher with some power. At the same time, Mejia “might” be the best hitter in the minors. A 50-game hitting streak shot him to national prominence, but Cleveland fans have been clamoring for Mejia in the bigs for a while. At Triple-A this season he was slashing .279/.328/.426 with seven homers and 45 RBI. What this does not reflect is how slow he started the season, and how hot he has been in the last month. In his past 29 games, Mejia has been hitting .389 with three homers and 13 doubles.  At the very least, the Padres are adding a top hitter to their system.

If he moves off catcher, as Cleveland seemed to have planned for him, Mejia looks to fit either at third or in the outfield.  Even is Christian Villanueva continues to scuffle into the second half, there is no hint that Mejia can push him off the position. Also if he has the contract to play in the majors, there is fringe-average power compared to what the Padres already have.  The better guess is that he enters a timeshare in the outfield with Travis Jankowski, as he is not pushing Wil Myers or Manual Margot out of their spots. And yet, this would mean fewer games for Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Alex Dickerson, and Franmil Reyes. The lack of the DH hurts Mejia in this case or hurts all the rest of the Padre hitters concerning fantasy production. All of these scenarios rely on him making the team this year, and he could be kept at Triple-A the rest of the year as well. 

The other note is the park, as Petco Park offers a pitchers paradise, even if that is evening out more over the last few years.  According to the ScoutingBook Petco has a park factor of 86, meaning only 86 out of the typical 100 runs will score in San Diego. This is not good defense, or exceptional pitchers, but rather the effects of the ocean and the design.  This means that the contact bat should play better than a power bat like Bobby Bradley, but the ceiling is a bit lower on Mejia in San Diego than anywhere else. For Mejia owners, this is a worse case scenario, but if it all works out, could get him into playing time quicker than he would have seen in Cleveland.  Hedges owners will need to keep an eye on the news, as there are some reports that Mejia will, in fact, stay at catcher.  If that is the case, the tension will be offense vs defense behind the plate.  Hold the course now, but also know that Hedges can only lose value in the next few days.   

The Secret Steal of Adam Cimber and Other Changes

While not the big names in this deal, the addition of Cimber was a big surprise, as this could be another critical bullpen piece for Cleveland moving forward.  Cimber has appeared on the waiver wire teams of the week a few times for how little he is owned, and for ratios that helps any team. In 42 games he has three wins with a 9.5 K/9 rate.  Besides, the ERA sits at 3.17; a full run worse than his FIP at 2.32. Thr biggest issue for Cleveland this year has been the loss of Bryan Shaw in the 7th inning. Cimber uses a fastball/slider mix to pound the strike zone, as only 31.1% of swings by hitters are outside the zone.  Even still, the K numbers look real, and while moving to Cleveland might add some homers, the overall profile looks like a steal for Cleveland. 1.86 BB/9 means that even if the homers increase, there is a cap on that damage. Another useful addition that makes this bullpen move from worst in baseball to one of the best.   For fantasy owners in need of ratios, look to Cimber as a nice addition. 

On the other hand, if you are a Hand owner, Craig Stammen looks to be the closer moving forward.  Hand has been good on a losing team, and Stammen should be able to add 12+ down the stretch.  The good news is that Hand is replaceable and should not hurt most teams.  Hand himself is a significant loss, but his role is easy to fill.  Even if Stammen can produce in the closer role, this does take another key bullpen arm out, meaning that the those shaky Padres starters moved from streaming options to avoid at all cost.  Tyson Ross might be the only option to really count on, and even here, this could be the next piece to go.  Padres starters at home are still interesting with the right match-up, for the reasons that Mejia owners are unhappy, but avoid at all cost on the road.  No more Clayton Richard, Eric Lauer, and the rest moving forward.


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