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Gregor Chisholm: Blue Jays get a helping Hand in deal with the Nationals, but they’re going to need more at the trade deadline

Gregor Chisholm: Blue Jays get a helping Hand in deal with the Nationals, but they’re going to need more at the trade deadline
Sports
One day after the Oakland A’s and New York Yankees — two fellow wild-card contenders — orchestrated a pair of major additions, Jays general manager Ross Atkins pulled off a deal of his own by acquiring closer Brad Hand from the Washington Nationals for catching prospect Riley Adams.

The trade ends a pursuit that had been almost one year in the making. The Jays’ interest began shortly after it was reported at the end of last season that Cleveland would not be picking up Hand’s club option for $10 million (U.S.). Any team could have acquired him before the option was declined, without giving up much in return. He hit the open market instead.

That proved to be a mistake because Hand secured an even bigger contract via free agency, although just barely. The 11-year veteran signed with the Nationals for one season at $10.5 million after receiving interest from the Jays, Mets and several other hopeful contenders. With two months to play, Toronto is responsible for a little more than $3.5 million of that deal.

Barring another move, Hand likely will take over the closer’s job, which frees up Jordan Romano to pitch high-leverage innings in a set-up role. He becomes the latest addition to an overhauled bullpen that has been one of the Jays’ biggest weaknesses for most of the season. Other recent recruits include right-handers Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards while minor-league signing John Axford should be in line for a promotion soon.

The 31-year-old Hand led the majors last season with 16 saves and has 126 in his career. This year, he is 5-5 with a 3.59 ERA, numbers that looked a lot better before his performance started to dip earlier this month. Over his last six appearances, Hand has allowed eight runs on five hits and an alarming six walks across 5 2/3 innings. During that time, his ERA increased by more than a run a game and he was charged with three blown saves and three losses.

Another cause for concern is a recent drop in Hand’s spin rate. His four-seam fastball, which averaged 2,413 revolutions per minute before MLB’s crackdown on the use of foreign substances to doctor baseballs, has since dropped to 2,343. His sinker is down 100 rpm, his slider more than 200.

Those are troubling trends, but Hand is still clearly an upgrade for the Jays, who are 13-25 in games decided by two runs or fewer and have lost 10 games they led after the sixth inning. There was a clear need for change following injuries earlier in the year to Kirby Yates, Julian Merryweather and David Phelps.

The player going the other way is exactly the kind of prospect the Jays want to be dealing at this time of the year. Adams appears to be a competent backstop who is only getting started but, at age 25, he deserves an extended look at the big-league level and he wasn’t going to get that with the Jays because the organization is flush with catchers. Even after trading Adams, the Jays still have Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire and the most promising of all, Gabriel Moreno, on the 40-man roster.

It has been obvious for a long time that the Jays needed to fix their bullpen. Atkins has been chipping away at it for the last several weeks and, while the current group is unlikely to strike fear into the hearts of any opposing lineups, it has the potential to at least be above league average. If Nate Pearson returns to form, it should be even better.

There are holes elsewhere on the roster as Friday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline approaches. No. 5 starter Steven Matz has a 5.37 ERA since April 28 and there isn’t much depth behind him to protect against injuries down the stretch. There’s also room for another bat. The Jays were believed to be a finalist for slugging outfielder Joey Gallo before he was sent from the Texas Rangers to the Yankees.

The Jays are better on paper today than they were yesterday. An argument could even be made that, with a plus-85 run differential, they’re better on paper than some of the teams ahead of them in the standings. But they’re not in possession of a wild-card spot and they have a lot of work to do before that could become a possibility.

Hand will potentially be a nice fit with the Jays, but if they’re expecting to go on a run, they’re going to need to add more than just him.

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