The Tampa Bay Rays starting pitching problems have not gone away. Cesar Ramos was good in his last start, but there is not guarantee he will be going forward. Erik Bedard has not been good in his two starts, and has struggled with both stuff and command. Also, the pitchers that the Rays currently have sitting in Triple-A have been inconsistent and none have stepped up to be worthy of a big league spot. Thus, the Rays are still in need of a stopgap until Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson are ready to return from injury. Miami Marlins lefty Brad Hand would fit this role well.
Hand, 24, was a second round pick out of high school in 2008. He has shown promise in the minor leagues, but has been fairly inconsistent at the same time due to struggles with commanding his pitches. The lefty features a fastball that sits in the 91-93 MPH range with nice sink. His curveball is his best secondary pitch, and he also throws a changeup that is decent at times. His stuff is not anything special, but he will get his fair share of strikeouts while also doing a good job of inducing poor contact. His problem has always come with the walk. In his minor league career, he has thrown to a 4.2 BB/9, which has risen to 5.2 in his limited big league experience. At his best, he is more than able to get hitters out, but walks have always killed him. His minor league performance to date has been solid, as he has posted a 3.74 ERA in his minor league career, including a 3.21 ERA in Triple-A last season. He also has 95.2 big league innings under his belt, and while his career 4.70 ERA is nothing to get excited about, he showed promise by putting up a 3.05 ERA down the stretch last season. Hand is out of options, though he would likely have made the Marlins roster this season even if he had an option. He has thrown two games out of the bullpen so far and also started two games, though he has posted a poor 6.35 ERA in doing so.
Hand would not be able to replace Cobb or Matt Moore‘s performances, but he would be a better option that the washed-up Bedard, and he has also proven himself at Triple-A unlike the players that the Rays currently have there. He also fits the Rays bill because he comes with upside. Jim Hickey and the rest of the Rays coaching staff do a great job of honing in pitcher’s command. Hand is never going to be like David Price and barely walk anyone, but if the Rays can get his BB/9 down to around 3.5, he should be a fairly effective pitcher, though this transition would not happen immediately. Hand could be a rotation fill-in for the time being, and would slot into the bullpen later on in the ideal situation that Cobb and Hellickson return healthy and no other injuries occur to the starting rotation. He would be a nice part of the bullpen, and would give the Rays three lefties along with Ramos (who would move back to the ‘pen when Cobb and Hellickson return) and Jake McGee. Joe Maddon loves playing the matchup, and this would be a good way for him to play plenty of matchups with lefties. Hand would also provide starting depth, and would be an option to start games for the Rays down the road. Overall, he would be a solid contributor to the Rays, as a rotation fill-in for now, a bullpen member later this season, and a starter down the road.
The biggest problem becomes acquiring him. The Marlins resisted trade offers for him in the offseason and spring training, and have shown that they want to stockpile as much pitching talent as possible. That being said, Hand is not ever going to be an ace of the staff, and with the Marlins system having solid pitching talent, he might not have a rotation spot by the time the club is ready to compete. Thus, if the Marlins can receive worthwile talent in return, they would be unwise to continue to fend off trade talks. One thing that is worth noting is the unpredictability of Marlins owner Jeffery Loria. This could work towards their advantage, as he could decided to go on a trading spree to acquire young talent, but it could be a disadvantage as he could refuse to listen to any sort of trade talks whatsoever. One player that could interest the Marlins is Sean Rodriguez, whom they considered trading for this offseason. This could actually kill two birds with one stone for the Rays, as they could acquire the pitcher that they need, but they could also call up a left-handed bench bat to replace Rodriguez, something they really need. Of course, this is just speculation on my part, and the Marlins could elect to seek only prospects in any trade. Hand might not be easy to get, but with the Loria and the Marlins front office always being unpredictable, you can never count anything out.
Brad Hand makes plenty of sense for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has the ability to throw in the rotation now, as well as move to the bullpen when needed. He also has upside, and if the Rays could iron out some mechanical issues and improve his command, than he could be a nice middle of the rotation pitcher for years to come. Of course, it all comes down to the price it would take to acquire him, but Andrew Friedman should at least make a call to see if the Marlins would part with Hand for a reasonable price. If it worked out, this could give the Rays an extra win or two this season alone, and we have all seen how much of a difference these wins have made to them in the past.