The Padres' most coveted trade chip in recent memory is no longer a trade chip. Brad Hand is headed to Cleveland. So is Adam Cimber. The return: baseball's top-ranked catching prospect.
On Thursday morning, the Padres finalized a trade sending relievers Hand and Cimber to the Indians for MLB Pipeline's No. 15 prospectFrancisco Mejia. Add Mejia to the treasure trove of youngsters in San Diego's top-ranked farm system. He gives the club 10 prospects in MLB Pipeline's Top 100.
A 22-year-old catcher, Mejia has posted a .279/.328/.426 slash line with Triple-A Columbus this season. He will report to Triple-A El Paso, but Padres general manager A.J. Preller noted that he's "on the doorstep of the big leagues."
"You're losing two quality relievers, but ultimately getting a 22-year-old switch-hitting catcher who … has a huge arm, has got some hitting accolades, can swing the bat," Preller said. "We continue to build -- getting that type of asset vs. a couple of 'pen pieces on a team that's struggled in the standings in the first half of the season. We just felt like that was quality value to go ahead and unlock one of the better prospects in the game."
Mejia, whose receiving skills have been questioned, is viewed by some as an outfielder in the long term. But he's expressed a reluctance to switch positions, and the Padres plan to continue to develop him behind the plate.
That, of course, leaves questions regarding Austin Hedges' standing. Hedges has been the club's presumed catcher of the future for the past half-decade, and he's been outstanding defensively. But his bat has lagged well behind, with a .232/.289/.376 slash line this season.
It's easy to envision both having an impact in the long term. The Padres certainly do. Mejia could still ultimately move to the outfield. For now, he brings serious high-level catching depth.
"To have two of the most talented and best catchers 25-and-under in your organization, it's a really good position to be in," Preller said. "[Catcher] is also a position where the traditional 130-, 140-game guy, you don't see as much anymore. We've talked about what this means for us down the road. At least in the short-term, we have two of the top catching talents in the game in the organization."
It's quite the trade haul considering the way Hand and Cimber blossomed from out of nowhere into top-tier relief pitchers with San Diego. Hand was a waiver claim from Miami at the start of the 2016 season. The left-hander became one of the best relievers in baseball, largely due to the implementation of a slider that ranks among the nastiest pitches in the sport. In 41 appearances this season, Hand owns a 3.05 ERA and 13.2 strikeouts per nine innings.
"Probably the best part of the job the last few years has been watching Brad come in and work in all different roles, different situations, growing from a guy that was a talent as a waiver claim that we took a shot with, to a two-time All-Star," Preller said.
Hand has been rumored as a trade piece for the better part of the past two seasons. But the Padres held firm that they wouldn't move him unless they were blown away by the return. During the offseason, Hand signed a team-friendly three-year extension through 2021. That seemingly made him even more attractive as trade bait.
Still, the Padres wouldn't have landed Mejia unless they included Cimber in the package. A surprise addition to the roster out of Spring Training, Cimber has been one of the Majors' top rookie relievers this season.
The sidearming right-hander owns a 3.17 ERA and a 2.32 FIP in 48 1/3 innings.
"Francisco's going to be a really good player," said Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti. "But in order to be able to get back what we view are really high-leverage, high-impact relievers, we knew we were going to have to give up a lot of value."
In the absence of Hand, it's likeliest that Kirby Yates will slot into the Padres' closer role. San Diego has yet to announce any corresponding roster moves, but it's expected to add bullpen help before opening the second half on Friday in Philadelphia.
"Where we're at in the standings, the second part of the year will be [about] looking at improvement from our club, looking at improvement from individuals and giving opportunities to guys that have some talent," Preller said. "We'll see if we can find the next Brad Hand or the next Adam Cimber."
The Padres might not be done dealing either. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported that Yates and, to a lesser extent, starter Tyson Ross have drawn serious trade interest.
For now, Hand and Cimber are difficult pieces to replace. But the Indians saw both as useful long-term additions to their bullpen. As a result, they were willing to part with their best prospect.
San Diego isn't going to rush Mejia. In two separate Major League stints, he's notched two hits in 15 at-bats, but he's going to get further seasoning in the Minors before he dons a Padres uniform.
"We'll take the next few weeks at the Triple-A level to evaluate, see where things are with him, see where things are with our big league club," Preller said. "We'll make a call from there. … He's a guy that's right there on the doorstep of the big leagues.