NEW YORK -- In a move designed not only to bolster their bullpen down the stretch, but to signal that they still have an opportunity to make noise in the National League East, the Mets on Thursday claimed left-handed reliever Brad Hand off waivers from the Blue Jays. Hand, who can become a free agent after this season, is ineligible to pitch in the postseason for his new team, making this a transaction intended solely to improve the Mets in September.
“This is a high-leverage guy,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We understand that he’s been going through some struggles lately, but this can be a refresh for him. He pitched really well against us this year, a guy that’s been used as a closer with different teams. So I think it’s an upgrade for us. It’s a great acquisition by our front office, sending a message to us, the team, and the whole Mets nation out there that we’re fighting for this.”
The 31-year-old left-hander struggled after the Nationals traded him to the Blue Jays on July 29, posting a 7.27 ERA in 11 outings for his new team. That led Toronto to designate Hand for assignment on Tuesday. The Mets subsequently claimed him, taking on a prorated portion of his $10.5 million salary.
Because Hand was not in the organization at the start of September, he will be ineligible for the postseason if the Mets make it. But he can help them reach October with a strong end to the regular season.
To make room on the roster, the Mets designated right-hander Geoff Hartlieb for assignment.
Rojas said that despite Hand’s closing experience, which includes 21 saves this season among 126 for his career, the lefty will likely pitch in middle relief for the Mets.
“There are some division rivals that we’re going to see for the remainder of our schedule that have pretty important left-handed batters in the middle of their order,” Rojas said, “and this guy can help us shut them down.”
The Mets had previously expressed interest in Hand last offseason, after the Indians declined his $10 million 2021 contract option. But that situation unfolded just as the Mets were going through an ownership change, making the timing difficult to maneuver. The Mets ultimately pivoted to Aaron Loup later in the offseason.
Overall this year, Hand has produced a 4.21 ERA in 52 appearances for Washington and Toronto, holding lefties to a .213 average. He is a three-time All-Star who posted a 2.70 ERA for the Padres and Indians from 2016-20.