It was less than one year ago the Cleveland Indians acquired Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres.
As it turns out, the closing pitcher's stay in Cleveland may not reach its first anniversary.
With Major League Baseball having ended its trade waivers system, the July 31 trade deadline is now the last opportunity for teams to bolster their rosters before the end of the season. As a result, more attention than usual is already being placed on next month's deadline, in which relief pitching is expected to be the position in the highest demand.
And in Hand, the Indians may very well possess the top commodity.
With Cleveland laying claim to a 33-32 record and 10.5 games behind the Minnesota Twins for first place in the American League Central, the Indians figure far more likely to be sellers than buyers in the weeks to come. And outside of starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, there may not be a more attractive piece on the Cleveland roster than Hand, who teams around the league believe will be dealt between now and July 31, according to ESPN's Buster Olney.
"Given the challenges of their market and resulting payroll, the Indians will always objectively evaluate offers for players who have outsized value -- and Hand fits that description right now," Olney wrote. "And the Indians are in the same position of leverage that the Yankees were when they dangled Andrew Miller in the market in the summer of 2016. Cleveland could insist on strong return, or they can simply keep Hand to be their closer in 2020.
"Evaluators with other teams believe the Indians will move Hand, because of the volatility of reliever performance, and because Hand's value will never be higher than it is right now."
Hand's value in any potential trade is twofold.
Most obviously, the 29-year-old is one of the most effective relief pitchers in baseball, posting a 0.98 ERA, 40 strikeouts and 19 saves in 29 appearances this season. Only adding to the 2-time All-Star's value, however, is that he remains under contract through the 2020 season under reasonable salaries ($6.5 million this year, $7 million next year) with a $10 million team option available for 2021.
Olney's comparison between a potential deal involving Hand this year and the Indians' acquisition of Miller three years ago is an interesting one. In exchange for Miller -- who at that point was a 31-year-old 1-time All-Star -- Cleveland sent the Yankees its top prospect, outfielder Clint Frazier. Miller, like Hand, remained under team control for the following two seasons at the time of the trade.
That Hand is both younger and arguably more accomplished than Miller was in 2016 could bode well for the Indians' potential return in such trade. For what it's worth, Cleveland sent its top prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia, to San Diego for Hand and reliever Adam Cimber a year ago.
Could the Indians recoup that package -- and then some -- in the next month? That remains to be seen. But it sure appears Cleveland will at the very least try to accomplish just that.