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Padres expect to field trade interest in Hand

Closer had career year in 2017, was named to National League All-Star team
MLB.com @AJCassavell

SAN DIEGO -- Dominant relief pitching has once again played a central role in the postseason, and the increased emphasis on bullpens in October likely means relievers will be a hot commodity this offseason.

It just so happens that the Padres have one of the sport's most coveted relievers in left-hander Brad Hand. And it certainly sounds as though he's available this winter for the right price.

SAN DIEGO -- Dominant relief pitching has once again played a central role in the postseason, and the increased emphasis on bullpens in October likely means relievers will be a hot commodity this offseason.

It just so happens that the Padres have one of the sport's most coveted relievers in left-hander Brad Hand. And it certainly sounds as though he's available this winter for the right price.

At the Trade Deadline, Hand was one of the most highly sought-after arms, but when no one met the asking price of general manager A.J. Preller, the Padres opted to hold onto Hand, who still has two years of team control remaining.

That decision was just fine with Hand.

"I like everything about it here -- the players, the coaches, the city, everything," Hand said at the end of the regular season. "I'm hoping I'm back here, and I'm hoping I'm a part of it when we're winning here."

That said, Hand is astute enough to understand the business aspect of the game. With the Trade Deadline approaching this summer, Hand answered daily questions about his status with the Padres. Yet, his performance never wavered. In fact, he posted a 24 2/3-inning scoreless streak at the same time.

"I felt like I did a pretty good job of not worrying about that," Hand said. "It's just a part of baseball, and you can't control any of it. You just have to come in, do your job every day. ... It's the offseason. It might be harder to be in-season getting traded. Like I said, I'm just not really going to worry about it that much. I probably won't pay attention to it. I'll just wait and find out what happens."

Preller expects there to be plenty of interest. And given Hand's numbers, why wouldn't there be? He posted a 2.16 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings this year. Since he joined the Padres at the start of the 2016 season, only Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller have more strikeouts in relief.

In his end-of-season meeting with the media, Preller compared Hand's situation to that of Craig Kimbrel in 2015. Kimbrel drew interest at the Deadline, but no one met Preller's asking price. Sure enough, teams came calling again that offseason, and Preller turned Kimbrel into four prospects, two of whom -- Manuel Margot and Carlos Asuaje -- were regular contributors this year.

"We get into that offseason, we had a couple teams reach out early, said, 'We're still interested,'" Preller said earlier this month. "I would expect that to probably be the case [with Hand]. When you're talented and you're good, teams are always in the market for good relievers."

The 2017 season was unquestionably a career year for Hand, who made his first All-Star appearance and set career bests in ERA, WHIP and strikeout rate. In Hand's eyes, the most important progress he made was his control. He walked only 20 hitters in 79 1/3 innings -- easily the best rate of his career.

Hand struck out 5.20 hitters per walk in 2017 -- more than doubling his career average. Much of that can be attributed to his elite command of his slider, one of the game's best out ptches.

He'll be looking to build on that success in 2018. And if it's in San Diego, he's perfectly content with that.

"It's a good young group of guys," Hand said. "I really don't think we're too far off from where we're trying to get to. When some of these younger guys got a little bit more time, got comfortable, we saw a lot of strides that hopefully we can carry over."

AJ Cassavell covers the Padres for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @ajcassavell.

San Diego Padres, Brad Hand