Fantasy Baseball: Brad Hand complicates Indians' bullpen; Kirby Yates set to star in San Diego
The trade that sent Brad Hand to Cleveland for hot catching prospect Francisco Mejia could be a winner for the Indians but not Fantasy owners. It also could make Kirby Yates more valuable as a closer.
The move, which sent Hand and Adam Cimber to Cleveland in exchange for catching prospect Francisco Mejia, pushes one elite Fantasy reliever out of his closer role, while promoting another potential difference maker into the role -- while opening an opportunity for one of baseball's most talented young hitters down the road, too.
Let's break this one down from both team's perspectives.
Indians acquire Hand, Cimber
The Indians really only have one flaw as a team, and it's the bullpen. Of the seven pitchers who entered the All-Star break on the team's active roster in the bullpen, five had a HR/9 of 1.4 or higher, including closer Cody Allen. The 'pen crew they'll enter the second half with will be quite a bit better, as they'll also be getting Andrew Miller back from the DL. Suddenly, a weakness looks like a strength.
Of course, Fantasy owners just want to know who will close. My guess is, it will be Allen, whose 4.66 ERA is well out of line with his career mark -- he hasn't had an ERA over 3.00 since 2012, his rookie season. He's a better pitcher than he's shown, and given how they've deployed Miller in the past, the Indians want to keep flexibility in the bullpen role of their relief aces. I would guess Hand will be deployed in a similar way.
But that's no guarantee. Hand and Miller are both lefties, after all, as is Oliver Perez, a rare bright spot since joining the bullpen in early June. Neither Miller nor Hand is anything like a lefty specialist, but maybe Terry Francona wants to split up his lefties, using either Hand or Miller as the closer, with the other serving as more of a fireman role in the earlier innings.
Either way, Hand and Miller should get some saves, as we've seen in Cleveland over the years. And it's also true that neither is likely to get enough saves to truly live up to his Fantasy potential. I would hang on to both Allen and Hand in points leagues until we get definitive proof of how they will be used, and then dump whichever isn't closing. In Roto leagues, whoever is closing is obviously a high-value piece, but both Hand and Miller are worth using even without working the ninth consistently.
Padres acquire Mejia
For the Padres, this move is about Mejia's potential to be a game-changing bat behind the plate. He got off to a slow start, sporting an OPS below .600 in April and May, but Mejia reminded us just how good he could be in June, hitting .455/.476/.717 with four homers and just 14 strikeouts in 104 plate appearances. At his best, Mejia brings strong contact skills and above-average power to the table, skills that can make him an elite Fantasy option at catcher.
And in San Diego, he should get a chance to show it off at catcher. It wasn't clear quite where he would play in Cleveland, hence the Indians' various attempts to try him out in the outfield and third base. In San Diego, well … he just has to go through Austin Hedges. He'll open his Padres' career in Triple-A, but don't be surprised if we see him before long. And he'll be a must-add player as soon as he's up every day.
The other side of this for San Diego comes in who will be replacing Hand, and that is likely to be Kirby Yates. At least for now. Like Hand, Yates is a successful reclamation project for the Padres, sporting a 1.43 ERA with 11.5 K/9 in 37 2/3 innings of work. He should step right into Hand's role, and if he's not quite this good, he should be an above-average closer for as long as he has the role.
That may be for less than two weeks, because Yates is a prime candidate to be traded in his own right. The Padres have other options in the 'pen to take over for Yates in that event — Craig Stammen and Robbie Erlin both come to mind — but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, go add Yates where available. He'll be good for as long as he has the job.
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