Nationals bolster bullpen with top available lefty Hand

The Nationals have known all winter they needed an experienced left-hander for their bullpen, someone who could be counted upon to get big outs late in games. They're going to wind up getting the best one available.

The Nats are in agreement with veteran reliever Brad Hand on a one-year deal worth $10.5 million, pending a physical, a source familiar with the signing confirmed.

Once the deal becomes official, the Nationals will have added one of baseball's best lefty relievers over the last five seasons to a bullpen that also has three late-inning right-handers returning in Daniel Hudson, Tanner Rainey and Will Harris.

Hand-Throws-Indians-Sidebar.jpgHand's track record of consistent dominance is significant. A failed starter with the Marlins earlier in his career, he was picked up off waivers in 2016 by the Padres, who converted him to the bullpen and immediately saw positive results. Since becoming a full-time reliever, he owns a 2.70 ERA, 1.066 WHIP and 104 saves over 306 appearances. Lefties have hit .150 off him, righties have hit .226.

Hand spent the last three seasons with the Indians, recording 34 saves in 2019 and a league-best 16 saves during the shortened 2020 campaign. But Cleveland opted not to pick up his $10 million option for 2021 and placed him on waivers in late October, hoping another club might claim him at that price. None did, so the Indians wound up paying him a $1 million buyout, and Hand became an attractive free agent.

Three months later, the Nationals swooped in and signed Hand for $500,000 more than he would've cost back then, beating out a list of other pursuers that reportedly included the Mets, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Angels.

Though it would be natural to assume Hand could become the Nats' new closer, it's probably not that simple. Manager Davey Martinez has shown a preference for using multiple relievers in late innings, based on favorable matchups and recent workload.

Hand figures to be Martinez's top option against the best left-handed batters in an opposing lineup, whether that occurs in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning. Hudson and Harris both have closing experience as well, and Rainey emerged last summer as likely closer of the future for the organization.

Hand's acquisition, which was first reported by MLB Network, is the latest in a string of calculated moves by general manager Mike Rizzo to address his club's most glaring needs without breaking the bank or making long-term commitments.

The Nationals entered the offseason needing a first baseman, a corner outfielder, a No. 4 starter and left-handed reliever. Rizzo wound up acquiring Josh Bell, Kyle Schwarber, Jon Lester and Hand for a total of $31.85 million (plus two pitching prospects traded to the Pirates for Bell). Schwarber, Lester and Hand are all signed for one year, while Bell has two years to go before he's eligible for free agency.

Rizzo isn't entirely done this winter. The Nats still need a second catcher to share the job with returning veteran Yan Gomes. They also likely need at least one, perhaps two more bench players. And it's not out of the question they could make one more big move to acquire another starting position player if they're not 100 percent sold on third baseman Carter Kieboom or center fielder Victor Robles, who both struggled last season.

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