The Houston Astros should take advantage of a shrinking free agent market and sign All-Star left-handed reliever Brad Hand.
The Houston Astros will likely come into free agency looking for significant upgrades, particularly with their current bullpen. With teams seemingly squeamish to spend big money this offseason, the free-agent market is primed for second-tier players settling for team-friendly deals, and it presents an opportunity for the Astros to take advantage. Although Astros relievers performed well at times, the lack of both experience and an elite closer compared to other contenders makes signing another arm a must. I have a solution, everyone – free agent Brad Hand.
Brad Hand has been a three-time All-Star with over 100 saves in his career, and will turn 31 in March. After modest success to start his career with the Marlins, Hand blossomed into the closer role with both the Padres and the Indians over the last couple of years. Since 2016, Hand has posted an ERA of 2.70 with a 12 strikeouts-per-nine innings, which ranks among the best in the game.
The southpaw relies on his elite slider and four-seam fastball, with the occasional curve and changeup. What’s interesting about Hand is that he is not your typical velocity monster closer like Aroldis Chapman or Billy Wagner. His fastball rarely cracks 94 and his best pitch – the slider – hangs in the mid-80s. However, his slider generates a ton of movement and is just flat-out deadly. Hitters know that pitch is coming and will hang around the strike zone, but they can’t hit it cleanly and are forced to guess (Framber Valdez’s curveball has the same effect). Brad Hand may not have all the bells and whistles like an Aroldis Chapman, but he gets you what you want: strikeouts, outs, saves.
Hand had a great 2020 season for the Cleveland Indians – he posted a 2.05 ERA, 13 strikeouts per nine innings and struck out nearly 33 percent of the batters he faced (which was top 8 percent in the League, according to Baseball Savant). Hitters only managed to hit .139 against his slider and didn’t fare much better against his fastball (.152 batting average). For a pitcher who generates contact, Hand does not give up a ton of damage – he did not give up a home run and only gave up six extra base hits in the 78 batters he faced this season. A closer that does not give up homers would be a welcomed addition to all Astros fans watching in the home run-friendly Minute Maid Park.
His 2020 postseason was very short and disappointing. He came into the 9th inning of Game 2 with a one run lead against the Yankees and proceeded to give up two hits and two runs plus one crucial fielding error that let the pinstripes come back and win. It was a little unnerving to see a juggernaut lineup like the Yankees get to him like that – however, every good pitcher has a bad game and that shouldn’t overshadow his impressive 2020 season.
Contract & Fit
Although he’s shown drop in velocity, Hand is still an elite talent that you could possibly get for a reasonable price (even if only for one year). I’m projecting he signs for $8-10 million per year, which would make this a steal for Houston.
Hand appeals to me because this signing would shift the current Astros bullpen into their more-natural roles. Ryan Pressly was very good at times last year as the closer, but I’d be happy to plug him back into the setup role that he’s thrived in. This would also give Dusty Baker a pretty reliable safety net for his eighth and ninth innings, giving the ball to shut down All-Star pitchers. When you add those two in with Joe Smith, Cristian Javier, Enoli Paredes, Brooks Raley and Andre Scrubb, the Astros’ bullpen would have a much more formidable bullpen.
Whenever you have a chance an established top-five closer at an extremely discounted rate, you must do it. A move like this would maximize money and shift the pitching talent up to a championship level. Call it in, James Click!