MIAMI -- New season, new trade chatter surrounding Padres left-hander Brad Hand.
Once again, Hand has been one of the best relief pitchers in the Majors. And once again, his name is certain to be thrown around in trade discussions as the non-waiver Deadline nears.
For one important reason, this year is different in the eyes of the Padres' front office.
San Diego now has Hand under team control through 2021, the result of a two-year extension Hand signed during the offseason. They Padres will pay him $18.75 million over the next three seasons, with a $10 million option for the '21 campaign.
That changes everything.
Hand's name came up in trade talks at the 2016 and '17 Deadlines, as well as during the offseason in between. It once seemed like a foregone conclusion that Hand would be moved. Now? Not so much.
Before signing his deal, Hand's time under contract did not align well enough with the Padres' window for contention. There was little point in keeping such a valuable asset if he wasn't helping a push for the postseason.
"When I signed the contract, that was the big part of it," Hand said. "I wanted to be here, I wanted to help the young guys come up, and I wanted to win a World Series here."
One team source said that -- before anything else -- the Padres will weigh the team's window for contention against any trade offers for Hand this summer. The Padres, who boast the best farm system according to MLB Pipeline, are 5 1/2 games back in the National League West entering play Saturday. Realistically, they feel that window might open next year when a handful of those youngsters arrive.
Now, instead of having Hand on hand for (maybe) one postseason push, the Padres could have him for three. That's not an asset they're going to part with lightly.
At the Deadline last season, general manager A.J. Preller turned down several offers, and he was mostly criticized for doing so. But in the process, Preller made it clear that he valued Hand more than his counterparts did.
Ten months later, Hand's value hasn't diminished a bit. In fact, the Padres feel it has jumped significantly, given his team-friendly contract and -- perhaps more importantly -- his extended run of success.
Hand is now in his third season with the Padres. (This weekend he's back in Miami, the organization that designated him before the 2016 season.) The question marks as to whether his performance is sustainable no longer exist.
Hand has pitched precisely 200 relief innings for the Padres -- easily the most in the Majors since he arrived. He owns a 2.48 ERA and 264 strikeouts.
This might be his best season yet. Hand has a 2.01 ERA and is striking out more than 14 per nine. He's immensely durable, and he has performed at a high level for long enough that the Padres rate him among the top five relievers.
Top-five relievers, as it would happen, are worth a lot.
Two years ago, Andrew Miller netted the Yankees a prospect package that included Clint Frazier and Justus Sheffield. Albertin Chapman landed them a package that included Gleyber Torres.
The Padres rate Hand in that class. And now that he's under their control for the foreseeable future, don't be surprised if their asking price is just as high.
"I'm sure if they get offered the right group of prospects, I'll probably be traded," Hand said. "I don't think this year will be any different [with the trade speculation]. … But I'm used to all that by now, and I love it here."
The Padres love having him. That "right group of prospects" might be a pricey one.
Lucchesi set for rehab
Padres left-hander Joey Lucchesi pitched three innings in an extended spring game on Friday. He's slated for a rehab start with one of the Padres' Minor League affiliates on Thursday.
Initially, the Padres were hopeful Lucchesi would return from his right hip strain after missing only a start or two. When Lucchesi takes the ball Thursday, it will have been a month between starts in a competitive environment.
"He wasn't getting relief from that feeling," Green said. "We thought it would go away sooner."
Hedges on the mend
Padres catcher Austin Hedges continued taking batting practice with the team on Saturday, and he went through pregame drills in which he threw to different bases from behind home plate, testing his pop.
Hedges has missed six weeks with right elbow tendinitis, but he could begin a rehab stint next week.