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Indians acquire reliever Brad Hand, but sorta mortgage their future in the process

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The Tribe have now dealt their top prospects for relief pitching twice in two seasons.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians acquired All-Star closer Brad Hand and reliever Adam Cimber from the San Diego Padres earlier this week for Cleveland’s No 1 prospect, catcher Francisco Mejia. The 28-year-old Hand is one of the elite late-inning pitchers in the game and is under club control for another three seasons, through 2021. Cimber gives the Tribe another solid reliever to bolster their struggling bullpen.

The price was steep, though. Meija was the top prospect on just about every Indians list, and is the No. 24 prospect in all of baseball according to Baseball America. Losing Mejia is a significant blow to their system. He had been playing catcher, as well as some outfield since the Indians have Yan Gomes penciled in behind the plate for the foreseeable future, but the Padres have indicated that they will keep Meija as a catcher.

This isn’t the first time Cleveland has gutted their system for bullpen help. In 2016, the Indians traded two top prospects — outfielder Clint Frazier and pitcher Justus Sheffield — to the New York Yankees to acquire left-handed reliever Andrew Miller. Despite having Miller and All-Star closer Cody Allen, Cleveland’s bullpen ranks 14th of 15 American league teams with a 5.28 ERA, a 4.94 FIP, and a bullpen WAR that is 1.3 wins below replacement level.

This move isn’t just for 2018. Hand will earn $3.5 million this year, $6.5 million in 2019, $7.5 million in 2020 and has a $10 million team option for 2021 that comes with a $1 million buyout. Cimber, who won’t even become arbitration eligible until after the 2020 campaign. Hand has posted an ERA of 3.05 with 24 saves and strikeout to walk ratio of 65 to 15 in 41 appearances this season. Cimber is a 27-year-old rookie, and has posted a 3.17 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 10 walks in 42 games.

The Indians have some work to do to keep this unit together, though. Miller, current closer Cody Allen, and reliever Zach McAllister are all scheduled to become free agents after the current season on a roster that is otherwise mostly intact for the next few years. Add in the fact that there is little sign of any competition on the rise in the division in the next year, and the acquisitions of Hand and Cimber appear to fill a large need for the next few seasons.

For the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland will remain the team to beat in the AL Central Division for 2019, and they have enough of a young nucleus centered around Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez to remain competitive for a couple more seasons. Their real challenges will begin after 2019, when Corey Kluber, Edwin Encarnacion, Yonder Alonso, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Kipnis, and Yan Gomes will be eligible for free agency. Without top prospects like Frazier, Sheffield, and now Mejia to fill the void, they could be hitting the end of their competitive window fairly soon.

The Indians ranked 15th on the organizational prospect lists prior to this season, just ahead of the Tigers. Detroit should now move into the top half of the chart, up from dead last in 2015 and 26th just one year ago.