Brad Hand gets $10.5M from Nationals, $6.5M of it deferred

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WASHINGTON — Left-handed reliever Brad Hand finalized a one-year, $10.5 million contract with the Washington Nationals, giving the team more strength and flexibility in the back end of its bullpen.

The deal includes $6.5 million in salary that will be deferred without interest. The deferred money will come in payments due $1.5 million next Jan. 15, $3.5 million on Jan. 15, 2023, and $1.5 million on Jan. 15, 2024.

The 30-year-old Hand led the majors with 16 saves during the pandemic-truncated 2020 season for the Cleveland Indians, compiling a 2.05 ERA, .169 opponents’ batting average, 29 strikeouts and four walks in 22 innings over 23 appearances.

He did not allow a home run last season.

Cleveland declined Hand’s $10 million option after last season, triggering a $1 million buyout and making him a free agent eligible to sign with any major league club.

Hand’s fastball velocity has decreased more than 2 mph the past two seasons and averaged 91.4 mph last year.

Hand is a three-time All-Star, earning that honor in 2017, 2018 and 2019 after becoming a full-time reliever. He is 26-43 with 105 saves and a 3.65 ERA in 396 career games across 10 seasons in the big leagues, including 43 starts, for Cleveland, San Diego and Miami.

He joins a deep bullpen in Washington that already included Daniel Hudson, Will Harris and Tanner Rainey.

Since tying for last in the NL East in 2020, the Nationals and general manager Mike Rizzo have set out to address several glaring needs, adding Hand, lefty starter Jon Lester (pending a physical), slugging outfielder Kyle Schwarber and first baseman Josh Bell.

They also brought back the organization’s longest tenured player, Ryan Zimmerman, after he chose to sit out the season in 2020 because of concerns about the coronavirus’ effect on his family’s health.

Blue Jays clinch playoff berth with Orioles’ loss to Red Sox

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TORONTO — The Blue Jays clinched a postseason berth Thursday without taking the field.

Toronto was assured of an AL wild card berth when the Boston Red Sox beat the Baltimore Orioles 5-3.

If Toronto holds its current position as the first of the AL’s three wild cards, the Blue Jays would open a best-of-three wild-card series at Rogers Centre next week.

“These guys are excited to be in this position,” Blue Jays manager John Schneider said after Wednesday’s 8-3 loss to the New York Yankees. “You’ve got three really good pitchers lined up against a good Boston team, playing at home. So I think it’s more excitement more than it’s nerves or anything. I think the guys are going to come out and be ready to roll on Friday night.”

Toronto became the fourth AL team to clinch a playoff berth, joining division champions Houston, the Yankees and Cleveland. The Astros and Yankees have first-round byes.

The Blue Jays last went to the playoffs in 2020, when they were knocked out with two straight losses to Tampa Bay.

Eight of the 12 berths in the expanded postseason have been clinched: The Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis earned division titles, and Atlanta and the New York Mets are assured no worse the wild cards while still competing to win the NL East. The Dodgers have a first-round bye.