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Oakland Sends Lottery Ticket Brett Anderson To Colorado

If it’s possible to both buy low and sell low simultaneously, then that might be just what the Rockies and Athletics did by swapping 25-year-old lefty starters Drew Pomeranz and Brett Anderson on Tuesday afternoon at the Winter Meetings. (The A’s are reportedly also sending $2 million; Colorado sends 23-year-old righty starting prospect Christopher Jensen, who has has yet to make it out of A-ball and is on no one’s top prospect list.)

It’s a gamble on both sides, and it’s not all that difficult to see why. For Colorado, it’s an opportunity to pick up a pitcher with plus talent who keeps the ball on the ground. You hardly need me to tell you that the Rockies can never get enough pitching, but that’s especially true when you look at their current depth chart. There’s Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge de la Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood, who were all various levels of useful in 2013, and Juan Nicasio, who was somewhat less so, and then…. well, a big mess of Pomeranz or Collin McHugh or Jordan Lyles, while waiting for Jonathan Gray to arrive.

But of course, the giant, gimpy elephant on crutches in the room is Anderson’s near-total inability to stay healthy. In five big league seasons, he’s pitched 450.2 innings total, not having cracked even the 100-inning mark since 2010. That’ll happen when you miss months with a sore left elbow (2010), get Tommy John surgery (2011-12), strain your oblique (late 2012), and then miss four months with a severely sprained right ankle (2013).

Anderson made five starts of varying quality last April, then came back as a reliever in late August after recovering from the ankle injury. He was reasonably effective enough out of the pen (17/6 K/BB in 15.2 innings, though with difficulty keeping runs off the board) that there was at least some talk of keeping him there long term, especially since the addition of Scott Kazmir gave the A’s at least seven different starting options.

Year
GB%
2009
50.9%
2010
54.6%
2011
57.5%
2012
59.8%
2013
62.9%

If we cross our fingers and tap our shoes and squint hard enough to imagine Anderson actually staying healthy enough to remain in the rotation, then the Rockies just picked themselves up a very talented young pitcher. Though he doesn’t usually miss a ton of bats, his control is good, and as you can see at right, he’s increased his groundball rate each year of his career (with a few different levels of ‘small sample size,’ of course), which is a big appeal for Coors Field.

Even his supposed “home run problem” in 2013 isn’t really indicative of anything. Yes, his HR/FB jumped to 17.9%, a huge increase from any other year. But then again, when you’re pitching so rarely that you barely have the time to allow any fly balls at all, perhaps we shouldn’t read too heavily into that stat — of the five homers he allowed all season, three came in the span of six batters in Detroit on April 13. So while it’s almost criminally insane to expect that this is the year Anderson magically stays healthy, he’s the kind of high risk / high reward pitcher a team like Colorado ought to be going after. A Jason Vargas type here just wasn’t going to move the needle.

So what’s in it for the A’s? Team control and freed-up salary, mainly. Oakland saves $7.5m at the least by passing off Anderson’s $8m 2014 contract (minus the $2m they are sending) and a $1.5m buyout of a $12m 2015 option. Pomeranz, meanwhile, can’t be a free agent until after the 2018 season at the earliest.

Depending on how you view Oakland’s budget, they can either put that savings to use to make another move, or they’ve already done so by acquiring Kazmir and Jim Johnson. Either way, Billy Beane is making a simple gamble: that the certainty of the financial savings and the potential for Pomeranz to get his act together over the next few years is higher than the chance that Anderson stays healthy and productive simultaneously before his option decision must be made.

It’s not a bad risk, really. Pomeranz was once a highly-touted prospect when he was shipped to Denver from Cleveland in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal, but he was never really able to put it together for the Rockies.

You can put some share of the blame there on Colorado, if you like, because they never exactly made it easy on him. After being the #5 overall pick in the 2011 draft, he was put in an awkward position as the player to be named later in the Jimenez deal, unable to be officially moved for several weeks after the trade until the one-year waiting period had passed from the time he’d signed his contract, even though everyone knew it would be him. After just two minor league starts in the organization, they rushed him to the bigs in September, then put him through the “four-man rotation with low pitch limit” shenanigans that they experimented with in 2012.

In 2013, he spent most of the year in Triple-A along with missing six weeks with left shoulder inflammation, and made just four big-league starts. His main problem at this point is that he’s really a two-pitch pitcher while also fighting with mechanics troubles, and so his future might be in the bullpen. Then again, it’s barely been two years since he was such a highly touted prospect, and getting out of Coors Field and away from the Colorado organization hardly seems like a bad thing for him.

If you strictly adhere to the rule of “the team getting the best player wins the trade,” well, then that’s probably Colorado. It’s a lot easier to see Anderson adding value then Pomeranz; of course, it’s a lot easier to see Anderson spending months at a time on the disabled list too.

It’s difficult to think the A’s were ever getting a huge return for a guy who has made 24 starts over the last three seasons, so both sides can count this as a win. Colorado gets the lottery ticket pitcher they needed; Oakland gets a less likely lottery ticket along with team control and cost savings. In the end, both sides made reasonable gambles on swapping two young lefties who each carry large amounts of risk.