TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have made their first big splash of the Trade Deadline, acquiring Nationals closer Brad Hand in exchange for their No. 17 prospect, catcher Riley Adams.
The deal, announced early Thursday afternoon, brings the Blue Jays one of the game’s more consistent back-end arms over the past six seasons since he transitioned into a bullpen role full-time. The Blue Jays were also interested in Hand this past offseason before he eventually signed a one-year, $10.5 million deal with the Nats.
Hand worked his way into the closer’s role with the Padres back in 2017, his first of three All-Star seasons, and has held that job through stints in Cleveland and Washington. Hand has topped 30 saves twice in his career, and he led MLB with 16 saves in the shortened 2020 season. The Blue Jays have hesitated to lock in a closer in recent years, preferring flexibility of roles, but Hand is expected to form a tandem with right-hander Jordan Romano at the back end of Toronto’s ‘pen.
“You can never have enough pitching,” Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said. “If you want to have some kind of winning streak, you can never go wrong with having two closers. He’s a great add and he’s going to help out, but I’m not going to name a closer with Romano and Hand because I haven’t talked to Brad yet.”
With a 3.59 ERA through 42 2/3 innings this season, the 31-year-old isn’t having his best year as his strikeouts have dipped, but he has still been steady for the Nationals. His fastball velocity is holding strong at an average of 93.1 mph, but he leans heavily on his slider, which he’s always used as a primary pitch.
The Blue Jays’ bullpen got out to a nice start early in the season, but it has been a sore spot since, costing the team too many games late. Injuries have been a key part of this, of course, and that started back in Spring Training, when presumed closer Kirby Yates underwent Tommy John surgery and was lost for the season.
Julian Merryweather stepped into that role in early April and looked like he could be the story of the season in the Blue Jays’ bullpen, throwing 100 mph and flashing truly dominant potential, but he’s been on the IL with an oblique injury and suffered a setback in July, so he’s still without a timetable for return. Tyler Chatwood was excellent, then lost control of the zone and hit the IL himself. Rafael Dolis has been on and off the IL, not reaching the high bar he set in 2020. Across the board, the Blue Jays have needed an answer and Hand will be part of that. An earlier deal in June to acquire Adam Cimber along with Corey Dickerson from the Marlins has helped moved the group in the right direction, too.
Hand also gives the Blue Jays another lefty, which is suddenly the majority of their bullpen. Tim Mayza, Ryan Borucki, Taylor Saucedo and Kirby Snead are already on the MLB roster, but Montoyo isn’t worried about handedness being much of an issue, even though Hand has allowed a career .734 OPS to righties and .557 to lefties.
“If they’re good and the splits are good, it doesn’t really matter,” Montoyo said. “Case in point, Brad Hand. He was a closer and it doesn’t matter who he’s facing. [Aroldis Chapman] for the Yankees. I could name you all kinds of pitchers. If a guy is a good pitcher and does a good job, it doesn’t really matter who they’re facing.”
What adds some intrigue to the Hand addition is that he comes on a one-year deal as a true rental. The Blue Jays entered Thursday’s finale against the Red Sox in Boston 10 1/2 games back in the American League East and 4 1/2 games back in the AL Wild Card Race. A run remains possible, especially in the tight AL Wild Card race, but the Blue Jays aren't expected to load up heavily on rentals this Deadline. Instead, other moves could come with an eye on 2022 and beyond, while still benefitting this year’s club.
In Adams, the Blue Jays deal away a 25-year-old catching prospect who also had a spot on the 40-man roster after some time in the Majors this season. Adams didn’t hit well with the big league club, but he has hit .239 with seven homers and an .858 OPS over 35 games for the Triple-A Bisons this season and has the power potential to make an impact in some role at the Major League level.
Young catching depth has long been one of the Blue Jays’ greatest strengths on the trade market, and Adams, along with others, was a popular name in negotiations stretching back over the past year-plus. Along with the injured Danny Jansen, the Blue Jays have Reese McGuire and Alejandro Kirk on the MLB roster with No. 5 prospect Gabriel Moreno, who was having a brilliant season before a hand injury, down in Double-A as a potential catcher of the future.