The Indians acquired an All-Star closer and another big league relief pitcher and only had to give up one player.
It was a significant player, though.
Cleveland traded its top position-player prospect — MLB.com’s 15th-ranked overall prospect — catcher Francisco Mejia to the San Diego Padres on Thursday.
In return, the Indians netted left-hander Brad Hand, one of baseball’s top late-inning relievers over the past three seasons, and Adam Cimber, a side-armed throwing righty, who is in the midst of an impressive rookie year.
“Trades like this are always difficult to make,” team president Chris Antonetti said on conference call Thursday afternoon. “We parted with a guy that we think has a chance to be a really good major league player in Francisco. But we feel we’re adding players to our bullpen that will not only impact our team for 2018, but for years to come.
“We all feel that Francisco is going to be a really good player. But in order to be able to get back what we view are really high-leverage high-impact relievers, we knew were going to have to give up a lot of value. We were fortunate that we do have some catching depth within the organization and that depth allowed us to consider a trade like this.”
With the addition of Hand and Cimber, the Indians have strengthened what was clearly their biggest weakness in a bullpen that without the services of Andrew Miller for much of the first half was one of the majors’ worst.
It also gives Cleveland two pitchers under contract control and insurance should Miller and/or closer Cody Allen depart on the free-agent market this offseason.
Hand is signed through the next two years and is set to make $7 million next season and $7.5 million in 2020, with a $10 million team option in ’21. Cimber, 27, is under contract through at least 2023.
“As we approached the trade deadline, we sought to acquire players that could help us in our quest for securing another postseason berth this year and hopefully advancing in the postseason once we get there, but also impact our team beyond 2019,” Antonetti said.
Hand, 28, was a failed starter in Miami before striking it big as a reliever with the Padres in 2016. He’s been an All-Star the last two seasons, owning a 2-4 record and 3.05 ERA with 24 saves over 41 appearances this year.
After toiling in the minor leagues for years, Cimber enjoyed a breakthrough first half in San Diego, posting a 3.17 ERA and striking out 51 batters over 48 1/3 innings.
“Brad’s established himself as one of the best left-handed relievers in the game and has extensive experience pitching in leverage situations and closing games,” Antonetti said. “In Adam, it’s a guy with a little bit of a unique look. He’s a very low-slot right-handed reliever that’s dominated right-handed hitters and has improved against left-handed hitters. And we think he’s a guy that we can leverage in key situations in games to get some of the best right-handed hitters out.”
Hand will likely fill a setup role for the Indians, but could be used as a closer, depending on match ups and the performance of Allen, who wasn’t at his best prior to the All-Star break.
Mejia was also part of a trade that would have sent him to Milwaukee in 2016, but former Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy vetoed the deal.
He struggled at the start of his first season at the Triple-A level this year before catching fire in June, when he hit .455 in 24 games. Overall, Mejia batted .279 with seven home runs and 45 RBIs in 79 games for the Clippers. He appeared in one game for the Indians on Saturday.
There was an opportunity in right field for Mejia in Cleveland, but the club met with some resistance from the prospect who wanted to remain a catcher. He is expected to remain at the position with San Diego at Triple-A, and figures to see playing time in the majors before the season is complete.
The Indians may have dealt a highly-touted prospect in Mejia, but they have plenty of others who could be used in deals before the July 31 trade deadline. They are expected to search for help in the outfield.
“One of the things this trade allows us to do is continue to have the flexibility to improve other areas of the team,” Antonetti said. “We remain engaged with teams right now on other trade concepts that we’ll continue to weigh as we approach the deadline.”
The Indians optioned outfielder Greg Allen to Columbus and are expected to do the same with right-hander Adam Plutko today. They still have a roster spot open after Mejia was optioned back to Columbus after the final game of the first half Sunday. It could be filled by veteran outfielder Melky Cabrera.
Miller made another rehab appearance for Columbus on Thursday and Antonetti said the lefty could be activated within the next couple of weeks.
“His outing (Tuesday night) was really encouraging,” Antonetti said. “His fastball velocity and shape to his pitches is starting to creep back and look like it does when he’s at his best.”
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