Scouting the Free Agent Market: Brett Anderson

(Jamie Sabau/Getty)
(Jamie Sabau/Getty)

The offseason is not so young at this point — pitches and catchers report in fewer than five weeks! — and so far the Yankees haven’t done anything to improve their starting rotation. We haven’t even seen the token “innings guy on a minor league contract for Triple-A” signing yet. If the Yankees do make any changes to their rotation before Spring Training, chances are it’ll be a small signing, not a huge trade. That’s my feeling, anyway.

Among the remaining unsigned starters, and there are still quite a few of them, by far the most interesting to me is left-hander Brett Anderson, formerly of the Athletics, Rockies, and Dodgers. Injuries have been a problem over the years, there’s no doubt about that, but at the moment, every free agent is significantly flawed. Teams are sorting through those free agents and deciding which flaws they can live with. Does Anderson make sense for the Yankees? Let’s take a look.

Injury History

Might as well start here since injuries define Anderson’s career. Last year he threw only 11.1 innings across three starts and one relief appearances mostly due to back trouble. Anderson hurt his back in Spring Training and needed surgery to repair a bulging disc. It wasn’t until mid-August that he was activated, and barely a week later he landed back on the disabled list with a blister. The blister kept him out until late-September.

Last year was the fourth time in the last five years Anderson was limited to fewer than 50 innings. It was the fifth time in the last six years he was unable to throw more than 85 innings. His list of injuries is quite long and quite significant:

  • 2009 (175.1 IP): Missed a little time with finger and biceps issues, but avoided the disabled list.
  • 2010 (112.1 IP): Separate instances of elbow inflammation and a forearm strain sidelined Anderson for three months total.
  • 2011 (83.1 IP): Elbow soreness ended his season in June. He had Tommy John surgery in July.
  • 2012 (35 IP): Returned from Tommy John surgery in August. An oblique strain ended his season in September.
  • 2013 (44.2 IP): Sidelined four months with an ankle sprain and a stress fracture in his foot.
  • 2014 (43.1 IP): A broken finger and a lower back strain cost him close to five months total.
  • 2015 (180.1 IP): Healthy! Except for calf cramping that caused him to miss a start in September.
  • 2016 (11.1 IP): Back surgery and a blister kept Anderson out the entire season, basically.

Yeesh. Little of everything there. Muscle pulls and ligament tears, broken bones and bulging discs, upper body and lower body. Based on that, Anderson has to be considered a complete lottery ticket. If he stays healthy in 2017, great! If not, well, that’s kinda what you expected going in. You hope to get lucky like the Dodgers did in 2015. Maybe half as lucky.

Recent Performance

Anderson threw only 11.1 innings last year and they were 11.1 terrible innings. Terrible as in 15 runs on 25 hits and four walks. Only five strikeouts too. On the bright side, a 50.0% ground ball rate! That’s pretty good. The rest? Awful.

Now, that said, I can’t put any stock in 11.1 innings, especially when the pitcher was coming off back surgery and missed a month with a blister right in the middle of those 11.1 innings. Anderson’s only meaningful sample of innings over the last five years is that 2015 season in Los Angeles. That’s it. Here’s what he did:

IP ERA FIP K% BB% GB% HR/9 RHB wOBA LHB wOBA
2015 180.1 3.69 3.94 15.5% 6.1% 66.3% 0.90 .320 .308
Career 685.2 3.86 3.70 17.5% 6.3% 58.2% 0.83 .329 .308

So after you smush all those little 40-something-inning seasons together to get Anderson’s career rates, it looks an awful lot like his 2015 performance. He’s not a big strikeout guy, never has been, yet he succeeds by limiting walks and keeping the ball on the ground. In fact, his 66.3% ground ball rate in 2015 was the third highest by a qualified starter since batted ball data started being recorded in 2002. (Derek Lowe had a 67.0% grounder rate in both 2002 and 2006).

Point is, when Anderson has been healthy, he’s been pretty effective, last year notwithstanding. Back during his prospect days, Anderson always stood out for his pitching acumen and ability to locate, not his sheer stuff. Presumably his pitchability hasn’t vanished with the injuries. It’s not like Anderson is a guy who needs to throw the ball by hitters to be successful.

Current Stuff

Because he missed so much time last year — Anderson threw 118 total pitches last year (118!) — and was either coming off injury (back surgery) or injured at the time (blister) when he was on the mound, I’m not sure 2016 PitchFX data tells us anything useful about Anderson’s current stuff. He was physically compromised.

When he’s been on the mound over the years, Anderson has consistently thrown five pitches regularly. He uses both a four-seam fastball and a sinker, plus both a curveball and a slider in addition to his changeup. Anderson’s velocity has dipped since his debut in 2009, but that’s to be expected. It would happen to anyone, not just someone who’s dealt with a ton of injuries. From Brooks Baseball:

brett-anderson-velocity

It would be a major red flag if Anderson’s velocity was down considerably last year, into the mid-80s or something. Instead, the four-seamer and sinker averaged 91.9 mph and 92.3 mph, respectively, in those 11.1 innings in 2016. They topped out at 95.6 mph and 95.2 mph as well, so the vee-low is there. That indicates the injuries haven’t damaged his arm beyond the point of no return, you know?

Because Anderson is a ground ball pitcher and not a strikeout pitcher — he’s made 115 career starts and only 12 times did he strike out more than seven batters (never more than ten) — let’s examine the ground ball rate of his individual pitches over the last two years. This tells us what healthy Anderson is capable of doing, and what he did in his most recent season, albeit in a miniscule sample size.

Four-Seam Sinker Curveball Slider Changeup
2015 54.5% 76.4% 58.8% 68.2% 59.7%
2016 50.0% 55.6% 37.5% 57.1% 40.0%
MLB AVG 37.9% 49.5% 48.7% 43.9% 47.8%

Two years ago, during his healthy season, Anderson got an above-average number of ground balls with all five pitches. That’s how you post the third highest ground ball rate by any starter in the 15 years batted ball data has been recorded. Last year, even with a bad back and a blister, Anderson got an above-average number of grounders with three of his five pitches. Yay?

The 2016 data doesn’t help us much because again, we’re talking about 118 total pitches, and I can’t imagine scouting reports would be all that helpful either. How much can information can you take from 118 pitches spread across four appearances? There’s very little video of Anderson in action in 2016 — MLB.com has three videos of Anderson from last year, and two are of him getting hurt — so here’s a clip of good, healthy Anderson from 2015:

That version of Anderson looks pretty good! Will that guy still exist in 2017, two years and one back surgery later? Damned if I know. That’s the hope though.

Contract Estimates

Things have been extremely quiet for Anderson this winter. So quiet there’s basically nothing in his MLB Trade Rumors archive. He was listed as a possible bounceback candidate in a December post, and the post before that is an injury update from September. No hard rumors at all. Anderson hasn’t been connected to any team so far this offseason.

Even though he was pretty good in 2015 and this free agent class is thin, Anderson was not included in either MLBTR’s or FanGraphs’ top 50 free agents. The only contract estimate we have comes from Jim Bowden (subs. req’d), who pegs Anderson for a one-year deal worth $5M. I had one year and $4M in my silly offseason plan, for what’s it worth.

One year and $5M or so seems to be the going rate for reclamation project starting pitchers. Derek Holland signed for $6M earlier this winter. Last offseason Matt Latos ($3M), Doug Fister ($7M), Kyle Kendrick ($5.5M), and Aaron Harang ($5M) all signed for similar amounts. Two years ago the Dodgers spent big to sign Anderson (one year and $10M) and it worked out well. Then he accepted the $15.8M qualifying offer and it was a waste of money.

Given the decided lack of interest and his ugly medical history, it’s difficult to see Anderson getting anything more than one year and $5M or so. Maybe a desperate team stretches their budget and gives him $7M, but I don’t see it. A low base salary short-term deal with incentives based on innings and/or starts seems most likely, does it not?

Does He Fit The Yankees?

My vote is yes, and for a few reasons. One, Anderson won’t cost much money. He shouldn’t, anyway. If he holds out for big bucks, then walk away and wish him luck. Two, Anderson is still only 28 (29 in February). This isn’t some 36-year-old trying to hang on. Anderson’s still on the right side of 30 and theoretically offers more upside than the typical reclamation types you find in free agency. Three, Anderson fits Yankee Stadium well as a southpaw who get ground balls.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty)

And four, and perhaps most importantly, the Yankees have the pitching depth to absorb an injury should Anderson get hurt again. They have a lot of young pitchers currently slated to compete for the fourth and fifth rotation spots, including Luis Severino, Luis Cessa, Chad Green, and Bryan Mitchell. Jordan Montgomery and Chance Adams will be in Triple-A as well, ditto Dietrich Enns and Ronald Herrera. The arms are there to cover for an injury.

Anderson is very unique as a reclamation project given his age and the way he ostensibly fits Yankee Stadium. You needn’t look back too far to see the last time he was successful too. It was 2015, one season ago. He’d be a very nice (and affordable) upside play for the 2017 Yankees, a team banking on the upside of their young kids to have any shot at contention (and not looking to spend big to make additions).

It’s important to note the Yankees have tried to acquire Anderson several times in the past, so they seem to like him. They were reportedly one of the runners-up two offseason ago, when he first signed with the Dodgers. The Yankees also tried to trade for Anderson during the 2013 Winter Meetings and at the 2014 trade deadline. Perhaps their feelings have changed over the years, but once upon a time, there was legitimate and persistent interest.

The real question is, as always, whether Anderson wants to join the Yankees. What is his goal this season? To stay healthy and show he can be effective. At this point he can’t do much more than cross his fingers and hope he stays healthy. Pitch effectively though? Performance is something that can be affected by outside factors, such as a hitter friendly ballpark in a division with three other hitter friendly ballparks in the DH league, like Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees could always use another arm just to help lighten the load a bit on the kids. Anderson offers a smidgen of upside, unlike, say, Doug Fister or Jorge De La Rosa, and even if he gets hurt again, the Yankees would be right back where they started minus a relatively small amount of cash. The potential reward is not sky high, I don’t think Anderson is an ace when healthy or anything like that, but there’s a chance for him to be league average or slightly above. If he’s open to pitching in New York, the Yankees would be wise to scoop him up.

Reports: Yanks were among runners-up for Brett Anderson

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

According to Jeff Passan and Buster Olney, the Yankees were among the runners-up for left-hander Brett Anderson, who signed with the Dodgers earlier this week. The Braves, Royals, and Athletics were also after him. The Dodgers gave Anderson a one-year contract worth $10M with a bunch of incentives a few days ago.

As noted in our Scouting The Market post a few weeks ago, the Yankees tried to acquire Anderson several times in the past, so their interest in him as a free agent this winter is no surprise. They tried to get him from the Athletics last offseason and again from the Rockies at the trade deadline this past season. Anderson, who will turn 27 in February, was the youngest free agent on the market this winter.

I’d love to know what the Yankees were willing to offer Anderson — chances are we’ll never find out, of course — because that $10M deal seems a little crazy for a guy with his injury history. (Anderson has thrown only 206.1 innings since 2011.) Most contract estimates pegged him for a $7M salary on a one-year deal coming into the winter. I guess $10M isn’t all that crazy then. Reclamation projects don’t cost $1M or $2M anymore.

The Yankees re-signed Chris Capuano yesterday and I suppose that could be a direct result of losing out on Anderson. Once they realized they weren’t getting Anderson, they turned around and gave the money to Capuano. That sort of thing. The Yankees do need multiple starters this winter though, so maybe they would have signed Capuano even if they had landed Anderson. Who knows.

Anderson is still really young and has upside remaining — the upside being he continues to pitch exactly like he has but actually stays healthy all year — but there is no shortage of reclamation project arms still available. Chad Billingsley, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy, Josh Johnson, and Alexi Ogando have all had a bunch of injury problems in recent years and remain on the market. Still plenty of opportunity for the Yankees to add even more injury risk to the rotation.

Scouting The Free Agent Market: Brett Anderson

(Presswire)
(Presswire)

The Yankees are expected to cast a wide net as they search for pitching this offseason because that’s what they do every offseason. They consider every option, act on what they feel are the best options, and move forward. The team will reportedly steer clear of big names like James Shields, Jon Lester, and Max Scherzer this winter, at least depending on which report you want to believe, leaving them to pick from second and third tier options.

One of those second or third tier pitching options also happens to be the youngest free agent on the market: 26-year-old left-hander Brett Anderson. He won’t turn 27 until February, right before Spring Training. The Rockies declined his $12M club option earlier this month and so far only the Royals and Astros have been in contact with his agent, according to Andy McCullough and Evan Drellich. The Yankees have not yet been connected to Anderson this offseason but they did try to trade for him both last winter and at this summer’s trade deadline, so they could circle back and try to sign him this offseason. Let’s see what he has to offer.

The Long List of Injuries

Unfortunately, we have to start here. Anderson broke into the big leagues very young and managed to accrue six full years of service time while throwing only 494 innings, including only 206.1 over the last four seasons. He’s been hurt. A lot. Here’s the list of injuries that required a DL stint:

  • 2010: Elbow strain (missed 30 games) and then elbow inflammation (46 games).
  • 2011: Tommy John surgery (102 games).
  • 2012: Recovery from Tommy John surgery (120 games) and oblique strain (14 games).
  • 2013: Stress fracture in right foot (102 games).
  • 2014: Surgery for a fractured finger (83 games) and surgery to repair a bulging disc in his lower back (49 games).

Anderson has had some other minor day-to-day stuff over the years — missed a start with a blister in 2009, missed a start with back spasms in 2013, etc. — but those are the big injuries. It’s worth noting his finger was broken this year when he was hit by a pitch because the NL is dumb and doesn’t have the DH, so that one is sort of a fluke. I guess the other good news is that his arm has been healthy since he returned from Tommy John surgery in 2012, and because of all these injuries, he doesn’t have a ton of innings on that arm. But still, that is a ton of injuries.

Excellent When Healthy

So why bother with a pitcher as injury prone as Anderson? Because he’s been very good when he has been healthy. He posted a 4.06 ERA (3.69 FIP) in 30 starts and 175.1 innings as a 21-year-old his rookie year since 2009, and in the five seasons since, Anderson has a 3.56 ERA (3.41 FIP) in 318.2 innings around all the injuries. That includes a 2.91 ERA (2.99 FIP) in 43.1 innings for the Rockies this past summer.

Anderson is not a high strikeout pitcher by any means. He has a career 7.03 K/9 (18.6%), which is decidedly below-average, and his best strikeout season (9.27 K/9 and 23.0 K%) came when the Athletics stuck him in the bullpen in 2013. Anderson succeeds by being a ground ball pitcher who limits walks. His 55.4% career ground ball rate is the 12th highest among the 192 pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings since 2009. Over the last three years he has a 61.4% grounder rate.

In his nearly 500 career innings, Anderson has a 2.42 BB/9 (6.4 BB%) walk rate that has been as low as 1.76 BB/9 (4.7 BB%) in a single season (112.1 innings in 2010). Last year with the Athletics he had an uncharacteristically high 4.23 BB/9 (10.5 BB%), but that rebounded to 2.70 BB/9 (7.2 BB%) this past season even though three of his 13 walks were intentional. Nothing fancy here — Anderson throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground.

The Yankees have stealthily put together a high strikeout, low walk, moderately high ground ball pitching staff the last few years. Since the start of 2012, the team’s staff has the fourth highest strikeout rate (21.4%), lowest walk rate (6.9%), and 15th highest ground ball rate (44.6%) in baseball. They’ve combined an average ground ball rate with excellent walk and strikeout numbers. Anderson brings everything but the strikeouts, though his repertoire suggests there are more strikeouts hiding in there.

The Stuff

Anderson is a three-pitch pitcher trapped in a five-pitch pitcher’s body. He does throw five distinct pitches, but he relies so much on his two fastballs (four-seamer and sinker) and slider than his changeup and curveball are nothing more than show-me pitches at this point. Here’s a quick breakdown of his average velocity and pitch usage throughout his career (via Brooks Baseball):

FB% FBv SNK% SNKv SL% SLv CB% CBv CH% CHv
2009 50.5% 93.2 2.8% 92.0 32.7% 84.2 5.7% 77.6 8.3% 84.6
2010 42.3% 93.5 9.2% 91.9 30.5% 84.7 9.6% 78.8 8.4% 85.0
2011 30.9% 92.3 14.8% 91.3 40.0% 81.6 8.4% 75.9 5.8% 83.5
2012 28.7% 93.0 21.0% 91.5 32.6% 82.9 11.9% 77.7 5.0% 85.1
2013 34.5% 93.6 21.0% 92.6 32.7% 83.6 7.6% 77.9 4.3% 85.8
2014 25.1% 91.4 24.9% 90.6 33.3% 81.5 9.4% 75.2 5.8% 83.5

There’s a lot going on in there, but, most importantly: holy moly that’s a lot of sliders. Among those 192 pitchers who have thrown at least 400 innings since 2009, only Luke Gregerson (55.8%!) has thrown a higher percentage of sliders than Anderson. All those sliders sure help explain the Tommy John surgery earlier in his career. Throwing that many breaking balls at that age is no good for the elbow.

Aside from the slider business, the table also shows that Anderson has gradually thrown more and more sinkers over the years — explains why his 2012-14 ground ball rate is higher than his career rate, as mentioned earlier — and that he’s throwing his changeup less than ever. He’ll throw a handful of curveballs each start but nothing more. He’s going to get you out with four-seamers, sinkers, and sliders primarily.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a second to actually see what these pitches actually look like. I assume the four-seamer looks like every other four-seamer in baseball history, so here’s a clip with a bunch of sliders, one changeup (0:10 mark), and one sinker (0:35 mark):

That slider is something else. If I could throw a slider like that, I’d probably throw it one out of everything three pitches until my elbow exploded too. It makes you wonder why his career strikeout rate is only 18.6%. Maybe Anderson simply gets too many quick balls in play on the ground that doesn’t have the opportunity to bury hitters — both righties and lefties, as you saw in the video — with the slider in two-strike counts? I dunno.

Anyway, here is how Anderson’s four-seamer, sinker, and slider have done at generating swings and misses and ground balls over the years. I’m not too concerned with the curveball and changeup since they aren’t among his main offerings. These are his money-makers.

FB Whiff% FB GB% SNK Whiff% SNK GB% SL Whiff% SL GB%
2009 5.0% 41.2% 2.6% 60.0% 14.7% 70.3%
2010 4.4% 41.8% 5.2% 60.0% 15.2% 66.0%
2011 4.5% 34.2% 6.2% 71.4% 10.2% 68.9%
2012 3.5% 16.4% 4.8% 69.7% 17.0% 55.9%
2013 3.9% 40.8% 7.7% 81.8% 16.3% 74.2%
2014 3.6% 69.2% 4.7% 67.4% 16.8% 60.8%
MLB AVG 6.9% 37.9% 5.4% 49.5% 15.2% 43.9%

Hitters seem to have had little trouble getting a bat on Anderson’s four-seamer, which is perhaps why he’s started throwing more sinkers in recent years. the swing-and-miss rate on his slider isn’t as sky high as I expected but it is still above-average, especially these last three years. All three pitches are far, far better than the MLB average when it comes to getting a ground ball. That’s not a surprise given his career grounder rate.

So yeah, it does seem like Anderson’s career strikeout rate is so low because hitters don’t have much trouble putting his fastballs in play. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, quick ground balls are a good way to be efficient, but sometimes a pitcher needs a strikeout more than a ground ball. Pitching coach Larry Rothschild has a history of improving strikeout rates, mostly by ratcheting up breaking ball usage a notch, but I’m not sure how many more sliders Anderson can realistically throw. He could maybe change his pitch selection and throw more sliders early in the count.

Anderson’s stuff is good. He has a heavy sinker hitters can’t lift in the air and that’s a real weapon in tiny Yankee Stadium. His slider misses bats even though it doesn’t show up in his overall strikeout numbers. There’s plenty to work with here. Stuff and performance really isn’t Anderson’s issue. It’s staying on the field.

Contract Estimates

Given the injury history, it’s clear Anderson is a one-year contract guy at this point. I would be very surprised if someone guaranteed him multiple years at this point, even if he is only 26. Here are some contract estimates:

I know it’s cool to say there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal but I don’t really buy that. We all lived through the Kevin Youkilis era, right? That was a bad one-year deal. Anderson’s injury history means there is a chance of getting zero return on the contract and that money (and the associated luxury tax) will just be flushed away for nothing.

That said, those contract estimates seem sensible to me, mostly because he’s still so very young and actually has some upside to offer. There’s no way the Yankees or whoever else signs Anderson could count on him for 200 or even 150 innings next year. I think you’d have to hope for 100 innings and take anything else after that as a huge bonus, especially if he pitches like he’s capable of pitching.

The Yankees already have a ton of injury risk in their rotation and I’m not sure it makes sense to double down on that risk and add someone like Anderson. He’d be better as the second pitching addition — re-sign Brandon McCarthy to shore up the staff and then bring in Anderson as the upside lottery ticket/depth guy to be the fifth starter, for example. I’m intrigued and think Anderson is a nice roll of the dice guy. But he couldn’t be the only pitching addition New York makes.

2014 Trade Deadline Eve Open Thread

Hole Camels. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)
Hole Camels. (Jim McIsaac/Getty)

The non-waiver trade deadline is 4pm ET this Thursday, and between now and then there will be a ton of rumors and speculation. Some actual moves too. The Yankees have already swung trades for Brandon McCarthy and Chase Headley, but Brian Cashman has said he is still seeking another starter and another bat. I don’t know if they’ll get another deal done, but I fully expect plenty of Yankees-related rumors.

On Monday and Tuesday we learned the Yankees are “in on everything” but they do not want to part with their top minor leaguers. Josh Willingham, John Danks, Jake Arrieta, Justin Ruggiano, and Chris Denorfia were among the names connected to the club. They are not targeting Justin Masterson, however. We’ll keep track of the day’s Yankees-related rumors right here in this post, so make sure you check back throughout the day. All of the timestamps below are ET.

  • 4:59pm: In addition to Benoit, the Yankees have also checked in on Antonio Bastardo of the Phillies and James Russell of the Cubs. Both are lefties but I don’t think that says they’re unhappy with Matt Thornton. [Stark]
  • 4:33pm: The Yankees continue to be connected to Marlon Byrd, but they are wary of his $8M price tag for next season. Like I said before, they will need a right fielder next year, Byrd on what amounts to a one-year deal at $8M wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. [Jayson Stark]
  • 4:31pm: In case you were thinking about a reunion, former Yankees corner infielder Eric Chavez announced his retirement today. He was pretty awesome.
  • 2:16pm: Although the Yankees and White Sox continue to discuss Danks, they are still far apart in talks. I’m sure both the money and prospects are an obstacle. [Heyman]
  • 2:07pm: Justin Masterson has been traded to the Cardinals. The Yankees did not have interest in him, but it presumably takes St. Louis out of the running for Jon Lester and David Price, muddling the pitching market. [Peter Gammons]
  • 1:57pm: As they look to bolster their bullpen, the Yankees are eyeing Joaquin Benoit. They had some interest in him over the winter. There is “nothing going on” right now as far as talks go, however. [Heyman & Martino]
  • 12:49pm: The Yankees are still involved in talks with the Padres about Ian Kennedy, but those talks are said to be “medium,” whatever that means. San Diego cleared a lot of money with the Huston Street and Chase Headley trades and have said they don’t have any problem with holding onto Kennedy into next season. [Chad Jennings]
  • 12:06pm: The Yankees prefer rentals to players under contract next year and beyond. Rentals are cool, but the team does have holes to address next year (like right field). Trading for someone signed for next season wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. [Andrew Marchand]
  • 10:28am: In addition to rotation help, the Yankees are looking to bolster their bullpen as well. Adam Warren and Dellin Betances look like they have been running on fumes of late. [Nick Cafardo]
  • 10:06am: The Yankees are picking through the second tier of starting pitchers and they have discussed left-hander Brett Anderson. The Rockies intend to keep him and either exercise his club option for 2015 or sign him to a longer term contract, however. [Buster Olney & Ken Rosenthal]
  • 9:30am: The Phillies requested a package of multiple top prospects from the Yankees and several other teams in exchange for Cole Hamels. The assumption around baseball is that Philadelphia isn’t serious about moving their lefty ace. The Yankees are more likely to add another mid-rotation arm than an ace-caliber pitcher at this point. [Jon Heyman & Andy Martino]
  • The Yankees continue to have interest in Willingham. With Carlos Beltran continuing his throwing program and potentially returning to the outfield as soon as next week, the DH spot would be open for Willingham, who hasn’t played right field in five years. [Heyman]
  • Both the Rays and Rangers had special assignment scouts watching Double-A Trenton last night. Special assignment scouts are sent to see specific players. They aren’t there for general coverage. [Keith Law]

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2013 Winter Meetings Day Four Open Thread

(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)
(Thearon W. Henderson/Getty)

The final day of the lamest Winter Meetings I can remember is upon us. The Rule 5 Draft starts the day — J.J. Cooper has a preview, including notes on several Yankees farmhands who figure to be selected — but the Yankees do not have an open 40-man roster, so they won’t be able to make a pick. Clubs and their executives tend to leave around midday Thursday, so don’t expect there to be many rumors or transactions in the afternoon. For shame.

Here are Monday’s, Tuesday’s, and Wednesday’s rumors. Late last night we learned the Yankees rejected a Brett Gardner-for-Brandon Phillips trade offer from the Reds, who are looking to unload their second baseman and the $50M left on his contract. We’re going to keep track of Thursday’s worthwhile rumors right here. All times are ET.

  • 9:26pm: The Yankees were involved in trade talks for Brett Anderson before he was dealt to the Rockies. [Susan Slusser]
  • 5:31pm: While talking to Johan Santana’s agent, Brian Cashman showed some interest in hard-throwing but not-always-strike-throwing reliever Henry Rodriguez. [David Waldstein]
  • 5:28pm: The Yankees made their offer to Infante after Robinson Cano agreed to sign with the Mariners and before the Winter Meetings, which basically means last weekend. [Olney]
  • 2:49pm: Apparently there was a three way trade being discussed involving Gardner, Justin Masterson, and Didi Gregorius. Gardner would have wound up with the Indians, Masterson with the Diamondbacks, and Gregorius with the Yankees. Huh. [Sweeny Murti]
  • 1:10pm: Mark Ellis is “on the radar” as an Infante alternative for the Yankees. I looked at him as a possible target yesterday. [Ken Rosenthal]
  • 12:20pm: The team’s offer to Infante is in the three-year, $24M range. He’s seeking four years and $40M. [Sherman]
  • 12:09pm: The Yankees have offered Omar Infante a three-year contract. He is still holding out for a fourth year. The Royals are in the mix as well. [Jon Heyman]
  • 9:00am: Future talks about Gardner and Phillips could be expanded to include other players, but the Yankees have essentially told teams they will only trade Gardner for a starting pitcher. They listened on Phillips out of due diligence. [C. Trent Rosecrans & Joel Sherman]
  • Masahiro Tanaka remains the team’s top pitching priority. The new posting system is expected to be ratified soon but it’ll probably be another week or so before we find out whether Tanaka will actually be posted. Maybe longer. [George King]
  • The Yankees are one of Joaquin Benoit’s likeliest destinations along with the Indians, Padres, Mariners, and Cubs. He’s seeking $7-10M annually across multiple years. Matt looked at Benoit as a free agent target earlier this week. [Jeff Passan & Buster Olney]
  • While talking to reporters yesterday, Brian Cashman said the pool of available of second baseman is “deeper” than it is at third. He also said he has not spoken to a bullpen candidate who demanded the closer’s job. [Chad Jennings]

Reminder: Your trade proposal sucks.

Scouting the Trade Market: Brett Anderson

Jason O. Watson/Getty Images
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Update: Lookee here: Jeff Passan of Yahoo! reports that the Yankees are showing interest in Anderson, and that he’s expected to be dealt next week at the Winter Meetings. Though given the flurry of recent activity, especially involving the A’s, it doesn’t appear anyone is waiting for the yearly conference to conduct their business.

While improving the offense appears to dominate the Yankees’ free agent agenda early this off-season, the pitching staff still presents a number of issues. Brian Cashman said he had to find 400 innings, meaning two reliable starters, this off-season. They could get 180 or so of those innings if Hiroki Kuroda accepts their offer, but they still have a huge number of innings to fill and not many attractive options on the free agent market.

The trade market looks fairly thin as well, yesterday’s deal involving Doug Fister notwithstanding. David Price might become available, but the Yankees don’t have the pieces to land him even if the Rays deigned to trade him within the division. Beyond that, it’s difficult to identify a team willing to part with an impact starter (except maybe the Red Sox, which is out of the question). That leaves the free agent market, which could inflate given the lack of trade options. Does anyone want Matt Garza for four years and $60 million, or to give up on a draft pick for the two good years Ubaldo Jimenez has produced in his career?

Make no mistake: the Yankees absolutely need two reliable starters this off-season. Getting cute with rotation construction will only compound the issue as the season wears on. Yet two reliable starters will give the Yankees four definites, including CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova. For his part, Nova has yet to put together a full, effective season, so he remains something of an unknown. Behind him are David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno, all unreliable for one reason or another.

It might seem folly to add yet another unreliable arm to the fold, but it might be a gamble the Yankees need to make. This week we’ve learned that one potentially solid, but unreliable, pitcher has become available. Rumors started early in the off-season that the A’s could trade Brett Anderson, and with the addition of Scott Kazmir (two years, $22 million) and Jim Johnson (projected arbitration of around $10 million), they’re almost certainly looking to shed Anderson’s $8 million salary. In fact, just this morning we learned that the A’s are currently discussing an Anderson trade. While the Yankees aren’t mentioned, they could be players if Anderson remains on the A’s for a few more weeks.

Why it works

Bringing in a wild card like Anderson can work if the Yankees get their 400 additional innings from more reliable sources. In that case they’ll have Phelps, Pineda, and Nuno to battle for the fifth spot. Still, given the utter uncertainty of that group, why not add a guy who can perform considerably better than the typical fifth starter on a first-division team?

Despite a poor 2013 outing, Anderson has produced a 3.81 ERA during the parts of his five seasons in the majors (109 ERA+). His strikeout numbers haven’t been particularly impressive, but he has displayed good control a a decent ability to keep the ball in the park (though at Oakland Coliseum). Before he came up Baseball America rated him the No. 7 prospect in the game, a potential he’s shown signs of fulfilling, if it weren’t for that one big issue.

Injuries have plagued Anderson throughout his career. He spent 96 days on the DL in 2010 with elbow problems, and then underwent Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2011. Even after he returned in late 2012 he got hurt, finishing the season on the DL with an oblique strain. In 2013 he suffered an ankle sprain after a rough start in April, but he did come back to strike out 16 in 12.2 innings out of the pen to close out the year.

Why the Yanks can use a wild card

Again, the entire idea of Anderson is predicated on the Yankees acquiring two other reliable starters. To rely on Anderson for 100 innings might not be the best bet. But it’s a bet the Yankees can make, given their current makeup. In fact, if they do find those 400 innings elsewhere, Anderson can be a huge strength.

If the Yankees get two starters, the fifth starter competition is between David Phelps, Michael Pineda, and Vidal Nuno. Phelps is the clear frontrunner before camp even starts, given his experience. At the same time, his value is in his flexibility. The Yanks have shown they can put him in the pen and then have him spot start if the need arises. Given the depletion of the bullpen, he could be valuable in a setup roll, and then come out to make a spot start if needed.

Given Pineda’s recovery from shoulder surgery, he likely should start the season in the minors. He could, for all we know, come out guns blazing in camp after a full off-season of healthy recovery. Who knows. But given what we saw from his rehab efforts, that’s not something anyone can count on. Consider him the first depth option. Nuno is essentially a depth option, not really a fifth starter on a playoff contender (though he has proven people wrong before).

With Anderson in the fold, the Yankees would have depth they could pull from both the bullpen and the minors. That’s the kind of flexibility that allows teams to endure injuries. If Nova isn’t as effective as he was in the second half, if they want to give Kuroda a breather (if he re-signs), if Sabathia gets hurt, they’ll be somewhat covered with depth.

Why it doesn’t work

It’s hard to overlook a guy who has missed, on average, more than 100 games per season in the last four years. There are players who start out as injury guys who, as they reach physical maturity, just stop getting hurt. Anderson, who turns 26 just before pitchers and catchers report, is entering the prime years of his career. He could be one of those guys.

Yet even if he is, it might not happen this year. If Anderson continues to get hurt in his age-26 season, but starts staying healthy at age 27, it does little to help the Yankees. If he spends another year mostly on the DL, they’re not going to pick up his $12 million option for 2015.

As it stands, he’s an $8 million lotto ticket, who will cost the Yankees prospects in addition to the cash. While Oakland might be eager to trade him, they’re still not going to take zeroes in return. Anderson could well fit better on a team with more room to experiment, or a team that’s not trying to sign a number of big free agents.

Whether the Yankees show interest in Anderson depends on their taste for risk. Obviously they’ll first have to address the tangible holes in their rotation. If the A’s decide to deal Anderson before they do that, the Yankees have no shot. While they don’t have to acquire players in order of need, they certainly want to focus their resources on reliably filling their 400-inning gap. After that, if they have the stomach for the risk, Anderson could be an interesting player to watch. When else does a 26-year-old, left-handed, potential No. 3 starter hit the trade market?

Mailbag: Salty, Andrus, Cruz, Anderson, Perez

Eleven, yes eleven questions this week. I combined two into one so there are only ten answers. Needless to say, I went rapid fire. The Submit A Tip box in the sidebar is the best way to send us stuff, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Jim Rogash/Getty)
(Jim Rogash/Getty)

Dustin asks: With Jarrod Saltalamacchia not getting a qualifying offer, does he become a more attractive option for the Yankees over Brian McCann? Or does the fact that he only has one above-average season keep McCann in the lead?

It’s a combination of several things, really. The lack of track record and defensive shortcomings mostly. I do think there’s a strong case to be made that Salty at his price (three years, $36M?) is a better deal than McCann at his price (five years, $80M plus a pick?). Given where the Yankees are as a franchise, with some young catchers on the way and payroll coming down, a shorter term deal for a backstop makes more sense than going big on McCann. I would prefer Carlos Ruiz in that case — he is a far better defender than Saltalamacchia, plus he should come even cheaper — but I think McCann is elite relative to his position. Guys like that are hard to pass up.

Nick asks: So it seems that Texas would be willing to move Ian Kinsler or Elvis Andrus. What would it take to get either? Andrus isn’t as attractive now because of that contract, but still should be considered. And Kinsler is always hurt.

Kinsler makes sense only if Robinson Cano signs elsewhere this winter. I don’t buy him as a first baseman or corner outfielder. I was excited about Andrus a year or two ago and thought he made a ton of sense as a Derek Jeter replacement — his free agency lined up perfectly with the end of Jeter’s contract (after 2014) — but I also thought he would continue to get better, not have a career-worst season in 2013. He’s owed $124.475M through 2022 ($13.8M luxury tax hit), which is scary. Furthermore, I’m not sure the Yankees and Rangers match up well for a trade. Texas is presumably looking for a young outfielder or high-end starter, two things New York a) doesn’t have, and b) needs itself.

Aside: Wouldn’t it make sense for the Rangers to trade both Andrus and Kinsler, then sign Cano and play Jurickson Profar at shortstop? Dealing Andrus and Kinsler would surely net them that young outfielder and high-end starter.

Ryan asks: I haven’t heard any mention of the Yankees and Nelson Cruz. His name hasn’t been floated on here since the trade rumors last January. Whats the deal? I would have though he’d be a great addition to the lineup.

Grant Brisbee explained why Cruz is such a risk yesterday, so I’ll link you to that. Long story short: Cruz is basically Alfonso Soriano without the defense. His numbers against righties aren’t anything special (.249/.299/.465 since 2011) and while home/road splits usually get way overblown, it’s hard to ignore how much more productive Cruz has been at his hitter-friendly home ballpark (.279/.340/.546 since 2011) than on the road (.247/.299/.432). The Yankees already have one Soriano, no need to give up a draft pick (Cruz received a qualifying offer) to get another.

Kevin asks: Juan Oviedo and Eric O’Flaherty seem like natural fits for the Yankees next year given the payroll and need for bullpen arms.

Oviedo is the pitcher formerly known as Leo Nunez, the ex-Marlins closer. He’s missed the last two seasons due to elbow problems that eventually required Tommy John surgery. I would bring him in on a minor league deal no questions asked, but there’s no way I’d guarantee him anything after missing two years. He took a minor league deal (with the Rays) last year and will have to take one again. O’Flaherty missed most of 2013 after having his elbow rebuilt. He was one of the most dominant lefty relievers in baseball before the injury (held same-side hitters to a .195 wOBA from 2011-2012) and I think he’ll get a nice contract this winter despite coming off surgery. Would he take one year and $2M to rebuild value? I’m not sure the Yankees can afford to go higher than that for an injured pitcher who won’t be ready until June or so.

(Jared Wickerham/Getty)
(Jared Wickerham/Getty)

Bryan asks: How about a flyer on Brett Anderson? The A’s have rotation depth and the cost wouldn’t be super high (you’d think) right now. Or would they be better off with a guy like Josh Johnson (who only costs money) if they want to take a gamble?

Man I love Anderson, but he just can’t stay healthy. He’s thrown more than 115 innings just once (175.1 in 2009) and over the last two years he’s been limited to 79.2 innings total. Anderson has been pretty awesome whenever he’s stayed healthy for more than a month at a time, but he’s going to make $8M next season. That’s a huge chunk of change for an always hurt pitcher. I’m not sure the Yankees can afford a risk like that. Payroll is tight as it is, and that doesn’t even factor in the trade cost. If I’m going to bring in a reclamation project starter, I’d go with Johnson because he only costs money. I’d prefer neither, to be honest.

Biggie asks: If Curtis Granderson accepts his qualifying offer would there be a market to trade him? What type of return would you expect? I would love him to accept, move him for another piece and sign Carlos Beltran for two years and $28M.

I don’t think the Yankees would have any trouble finding a taker for Granderson if he accepts the $14.1M qualifying offer. Chances are they could get a better prospect in return than they’d be able to select with the compensation pick as well. A contender in need of a bat like the Cardinals (if Beltran bolts), Tigers (for vacant left field), and Reds (if they don’t think Billy Hamilton is ready) would presumably show interest in Granderson on a one-year deal, ditto non-contenders like the Phillies, Mets, White Sox, Giants, Mariners, and Rockies. They wouldn’t get an elite prospect in return, but a rock solid Grade-B prospect who is at Double-A or higher. That’s very fair value if not a bargain.

Mike asks: What about Kelly Johnson as a free agent? He can fill in around the infield except at short and play the corners in the outfield.

If Cano does leave as a free agent and the Yankees decide to pass over David Adams and Corban Joseph as internal replacements, Johnson is the guy I’d want them to bring him to play second base. He shouldn’t required a multi-year contract like Omar Infante nor would he require the general headache of trading for Brandon Phillips. Johnson is a Yankee Stadium friendly left-handed hitter who hits for power (16+ homers in four straight years), plus he’ll steal a decent amount of bases and play solid defense. As an added bonus, he can also play left field in a pinch. The trade-off is a low average and strikeouts, which aren’t the end of the world for a number eight or nine hole hitter. Even if the Yankees re-sign Cano, Johnson makes sense as a lefty bat off the bench. Definite fit.

(Jeff Gross/Getty)
(Jeff Gross/Getty)

Tucker asks: While the idea of the Yankees signing Brian Wilson has been floated out there, and it definitely has a lot of appeal, I just can’t imagine him being willing to go to the barber, even if it means forfeiting a couple million. Do you agree with this?

Wilson already turned down a million bucks to shave his beard, but maybe $6-7M will change his mind? Ultimately, I think Wilson will wind up signing with a non-Yankees team because they’ll offer more money and guarantee him the closer’s job, not because he wouldn’t have to shave his beard. That would suck, he’s a perfect fit in my opinion (as long as you look beyond the beard and seemingly intentionally insufferable personality).

Thomas asks: Is there any chance that the Yankees try and get another full-time DH this season? If so, if he doesn’t retire, is it possible we would get another taste of Raul Ibanez? I’m sure Yankees fans would like to see him again.

Zac asks: Jason Kubel is one year removed from a 30-HR season and should come cheap following a poor year in which he battled injury. Is he s fit for the Yankees?

Going to lump these two together since Ibanez and Kubel are nearly the same exact player. If the Yankees don’t sign Beltran — he’s pretty much the only big name outfielder I can see them realistically signing — either guy would make sense as a part-time right fielder and part-time DH. They could also serve as that lefty bat off the bench I always seem to be talking about. New York could find a spot for their power even if they sign Beltran, though I think Ibanez is the safer bet at this point. Supposedly he’s only considering retirement or a return to the Mariners (he lives in Seattle during the offseason). As long as they keep him or Kubel away from lefties and have a defensive replacement handy, they’d make some sense for the current roster. I still don’t like the idea of adding a full-time DH. They need to keep that spot open for various old guys.

Anthony asks: Hey Mike, Chris Perez was just released by the Indians. Being that the Yankees will look to add a piece or two to the bullpen this offseason, do you think the team should give him a look? While I don’t see him serving as the closer, perhaps he can provide some value in the 7th or 8th?

I wrote about Perez in a mailbag back in May and said I wanted to see how he performed the rest of the season before thinking about him as an option for 2014. Well, from that date forward, he pitched to a 5.21 ERA (4.65 FIP) in 38 innings while opposing batters hit .283/.351/.520 against him. He and his wife were also arrested for drug possession. So … yeah, things didn’t go so well. The Indians got so sick of him that they didn’t even wait until the non-tender deadline to release him. Perez has really nasty stuff, but he clearly has some things to work on. I’m not sure if the Yankees have enough bullpen depth (or payroll space) to take on a second project reliever in addition to Dellin Betances.