When the news came out on Dec. 15 that the Dodgers were set to sign oft-injured lefty Brett Anderson, Dustin did a good job of summing up the risks involved. Anderson is constantly getting hurt, having thrown just 206 innings over the last four seasons total while landing on the disabled list seven times. $10 million for a guy who hasn’t thrown more than 45 innings since 2011 gives you an enormous chance of tossing money down the drain. And since roster spots aren’t infinite, what if counting on him to be around prevents you from going after someone better?
Valid questions, all. That’s all rational. Now let me fanboy out for a minute: I absolutely love this.
This is exactly the kind of deal every rich team should be attempting to do, which is to buy high-upside talent at a limited term for nothing more than money. To make room for Anderson, the Dodgers designated Erisbel Arruebarrena for assignment. More on that in a future post.
When Anderson has pitched, he’s generally been very good, with a 3.73/3.51 ERA/FIP over his career and a 2.91/2.99 in the limited time he was able to take the mound for Colorado in 2014. That’s a small sample and it’s due entirely to his own lack of availability, but you’ll notice that he was surprisingly good with the Rockies, and that’s because he’s a ground ball specialist who can miss some bats and avoid homers. You’ll note at this point that defense up the middle — Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick, and presumably Joc Pederson — is massively improved, along with plus framer Yasmani Grandal taking over behind the plate. This is not an accident.
Though it seems like he’s been around forever, Anderson only turns 27 in February. (I was shocked to see that too.) He was actually part of the “Dan Haren to Arizona” deal seven years ago, believe it or not. So that helps, but the obvious and fair question is, can he stay healthy? Well, we know the answer to that already. No, he can’t. But then, this all depends on what your expectations are.
If you’re expecting Anderson to be the regular fifth start and take the ball for 32 starts this year, you are going to be massively disappointed. If that’s what you want and it doesn’t happen, then the issue isn’t with Anderson. It’s with your expectations. I can almost guarantee that he’s going to end up on the disabled list this point. We expect that from Carl Crawford, don’t we? Expect it here, too.
But simply “does he avoid the disabled list” isn’t the indicator of success. The real question is, how much time does he spend there? If it’s yet another months-long stint or stints and he pitches 25 innings this year, then the Dodgers have lost their bet. That’s money down the drain, though even then, it’s only money, not talent. If he can merely stay healthy enough to give you, say, 120 high-quality innings, he’ll have more than earned his salary. 120 good innings plus 80 more mediocre ones from a replacement is better than 200 mediocre innings that you can depend on from a Kevin Correia-type.
Even asking for 120 innings is asking a lot, understandably, considering his history. I’d like to point here that one silver lining is that other than a 2011 Tommy John surgery, this hasn’t been endless runs of arm trouble, like with Chad Billingsley. Not that back surgery, a broken finger, a broken foot, an oblique strain, a concussion in the minors, etc., are good things, obviously, and were I try to pretend that this is the year he’s going to avoid all that would be exactly that: pretending.
Still, I like the risk. I’d rather one year and $10 million to a pitcher who can get outs when he’s healthy than two years and $20 million to a pitcher who stays healthy and just isn’t very good, like Edinson Volquez. A team like the Royals can’t afford to make a gamble like this; they need to ensure the innings over the quality.
As Dustin said, it’s good to be rich, because this probably isn’t going to work out, as Anderson will pull a muscle or break a bone or whatever is next on the list. If it doesn’t, it’s cost you only money. If it does, you’ve added another very good pitcher to a very good staff, one who could be more interestingly utilized as a quality swingman than a regular starter. He’s probably overpaid, and it probably doesn’t matter. It’s a risk absolutely worth taking.