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Baseball Daily Dose

You Absolutely do have to Hand it to the Nats

by Christopher Crawford
Updated On: January 26, 2021, 10:00 am ET

The Nationals have a fun little habit of swooping in to sign free agents seemingly out of nowhere. 

The Brad Hand signing didn’t completely come out of nowhere, but it’s another case where Washington came in late -- at least in terms of rumors, anyway -- and finished with the player.

According to Jeff Passan of ESPN, Hand and the Nationals agreed to a one-year, $10.5 million contract. It does not contain any options, and reportedly doesn’t have any incentives to be earned, as well. 

The $10.5 million figure is interesting, as it’s $500,000 more than Hand would have earned with Cleveland had they picked up his team option for 2021. It was declined despite the 30-year-old being among the best relievers in baseball last season. Not only did he lead the league in saves -- a stat that only means so much in terms of valuing how a player performed -- but he did it with an ERA of 2.05, WHIP of 0.77 and K/BB ratio of 29/4 in 22 innings. Cleveland couldn’t find any takers, and the expectations seemed to suggest that he’d have to find a one-year deal for lower than that $10 million option. Half right. 

For 2021, this seems like an excellent get for the Nationals. With all due respect to some of the closing options Washington has had over the last few years, it’s fair to say that Hand is the best stopper in D.C. in a decent amount of time. The metrics on his 2020 season are interesting, as he ranks high in several categories like strikeout percentage, walk percentage and expected average; but low in categories like whiff percentage and fastball velocity. Those last two numbers are concerning, but on a one-year deal and with Hand’s ability to locate, there’s no reason he shouldn’t be a strong closer again in 2021. This is a good fit. You absolutely have to Hand it to them.

Taillon joins former teammate Cole in Bronx 

The Yankees needed help in the rotation. The Pirates want to make sure they aren’t paying anyone. Match made in heaven.

On Sunday, the Yankees acquired Jameson Taillon from the Pirates in exchange for four prospects; right-handed pitcher Miguel Yajure, right-handed pitcher Roansy Contreras, infielder Maikel Escotto, and outfielder Canaan Smith. 

Taillon, the second-overall pick of the 2010 MLB Draft, has pitched well when healthy, but he hasn’t had the chance to do so with just 82 starts in his MLB career. He missed almost the entirety (seven starts) of the 2019 season and all of 2020 while recuperating from Tommy John surgery. In 2018, however, the 29-year-old was excellent with a 3.20 ERA, 179 strikeout in 191 innings against 46 walks while making 32 starts. There are obvious risks with pitchers altogether and Taillon’s history just adds to it, but when he’s been at his best, he’s shown the stuff to pitch near the top of a rotation. Considering he will make just $2.25 million in 2021 and isn’t eligible for free agency in 2023, that’s well worth the risk for the Yankees. Stock up. 

It’s a nice move for the Yankees, but the Pirates do get some interesting talent back; similar to the move that shipped Joe Musgrove to San Diego. Yajure is probably the best of the prospects as a 22-year-old who throws plenty of strikes and can miss bats with a cut-fastball and a plus change. Contreras has more upside as a 21-year-old who can hit 97 mph on radar guns and a quality change himself, but will need to improve his breaking ball to start.

Smith walked a whopping 57 times in his senior year of high school, and he’s shown that same plate discipline with a .389 on-base percentage over 226 professional games. His swing path suggests hitting for average is possible, but the rest of the tools are lacking. The prospect with the highest upside is Escotto; an 18-year-old with a picturesque swing that suggests the possibility of hitting for average and power. He’s definitely a lottery ticket, but he passes the eye test in terms of figure helper. 

And finally, presented without comment. The Pirates current payroll is $37.8 million for the 2021 season. Ben Roethlisberger’s projected cap number is $41 million.

Red Sox acquire Ottavino from rivals 

Always fun when you see rivals make trades, even if it is for relievers. 

The Red Sox acquired RHP Adam Ottavino and Frank German from the Yankees in exchange for cash considerations. This is the definition of a salary dump by the Yankees, as they are attempting to stay under the $210 million luxury threshold while still being able to acquire some more help. 

While it’s a salary dump for the Yankees -- his remaining salary is $8 million in 2021 and a $3 million signing bonus that was deferred to 2022 -- that doesn’t mean that this couldn’t be a solid piece for the Boston bullpen. The right-hander struggled in 2020 in a whopping 18 1/3 inning sample, but the previous season the 35-year-old was lights out, registering a 1.90 ERA with 88 strikeouts in 66 1/3 frames over 73 games. It’s also worth pointing out that Ottavino struck out 12.3 hitters per nine innings last year with a 3.52 Fielding Independent Pitching metric, so it’s safe to say that there was some bad luck to go along with a small sample. Ottavino could realistically battle for the ninth inning job this spring.

German is also a nice add for the Boston system. A fourth-round pick out of North Florida (go Ospreys), German has a fastball that can clock in the high 90s and a potential out-pitch in his change. If he can improve his mediocre slider, he’s a candidate for a middle-inning role going forward. If it improves considerably, maybe we’re talking about a high-leverage hurler. 

The question now is how New York uses the money it saves with Ottavino now a member of the Boston bullpen. One name being discussed is the return of Brett Gardner, but it does seem like New York still has holes to fill throughout the roster.

Tanaka in discussions to return to Japan

According to Sankei Sports in Japan, free agent right-hander Masahiro Tanaka is in talks with the Rakuten Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball. It would be a return to Japan for Tanaka, as the 32-year-old spent the 2007 to 2013 seasons with the Eagles before signing with the Yankees the next year.

Tanaka was solid if unspectacular in his seven seasons with the Yankees, posting a 3.75 ERA over 174 career appearances -- just one of those out of the bullpen -- with a K/BB ratio of 991/208. His best season was 2016 with a 14-4 record that saw him register a 3.07 ERA with 165 strikeouts in 199 2/3 frames against just 36 walks. Considering his age, it seems possible that Tanaka could return to the majors after a year or two in the NBP, but right now it doesn’t look like he’ll be pitching games in the majors anytime soon. 

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Quick Hits: Andy Martino of SNY.tv reports that the Mets are continuing to engage with Trevor Bauer ... According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the MLBPA has rejected a plan for the universal designated hitter and expanded playoffs … Astros officially signed OF Michael Brantley to a two-year, $32 million contract. Brantley was rumored to have signed with the Blue Jays for about 15 minutes … MLB will hold its first-ever pre-draft combine from June 20-28 in Cary, North Carolina. This was first reported by R.J. Anderson of CBS Sports …Braves re-signed INF Pablo Sandoval to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training ... Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that the Dodgers “remain optimistic" they can re-sign third baseman Justin Turner, and that the Red Sox are still interested in free agent outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr … Heyman also reports that the Phillies are interested in free agent shortstop Andrelton Simmons … Pirates signed C Joe Hudson to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. 

Christopher Crawford

Christopher Crawford is a baseball and college football writer for NBC Sports EDGE and also appears on the Circling the Bases Podcast.