The Colorado Rockies declined their $12.5 million team option on left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson yesterday, making the 26 year old southpaw a free agent. The Tigers have not openly suggested that they are in the market for another starting pitcher to round out their rotation, but Dave Dombrowski did not rule out the possibility during his year-end press conference. With payroll concerns piling up, the Tigers may choose to look for a low-cost option with high upside to round out their rotation.
Enter the oft-injured Anderson. A ground ball pitcher with some solid stuff and a medical record longer than a Miguel Cabrera moonshot, Anderson could be a steal in free agency or could do absolutely nothing in 2015. Should the Tigers roll the dice?
*2015 Steamer projection
Who is he?
Anderson, a 26 year old left-hander, was drafted by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the second round of the 2006 draft (the Tigers selected third baseman Ron Bourquin five picks earlier). Anderson spent a year and a half in the Arizona farm system before being traded to the Oakland Athletics as part of the Dan Haren deal. Anderson continued to progress through the minors and made his MLB debut in 2009, when he threw 175 1/3 innings with a 4.06 ERA and 3.69 FIP for the A's. He was worth 3.6 WAR and finished sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Sadly, this would be Anderson's most productive season. A rash of injuries limited him to 112 1/3 innings in 2010, when he allowed a 2.80 ERA and 3.21 FIP. He logged 83 1/3 innings in 2011 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June. After returning in 2012, his season ended abruptly when he strained an oblique in September. He missed most of the 2013 season due to a stress fracture in his right foot. He only made eight starts in 2014 after being traded to the Colorado Rockies. A fractured index finger and bulging disk in his lower back were to blame this time. He underwent back surgery to repair the disk on August 15th.
Why should we care?
When healthy, Anderson has been a pretty good pitcher. He has a career 3.73 ERA and 3.51 FIP in 494 innings. He strikes out seven batters per nine innings with a modest 6.4 percent walk rate. He induces ground balls by the boatload, sitting at a 55.4 percent clip for his career. He even briefly tamed Coors Field, allowing a 2.91 ERA and 2.99 FIP in 43 1/3 innings for the Rockies in 2014. He has solid platoon splits, holding right-handed batters to a .249/.308/.370 line in over 1500 career plate appearances.
A ground ball pitcher like Anderson could be surprisingly effective in Detroit next year. With Jose Iglesias presumably returning from his leg injury in 2015, the Tigers will have two plus defenders ranging up the middle and an underrated defender at first base in Miguel Cabrera. The only question mark is Nick Castellanos at third base, and having Iglesias near him should boost his ratings in theory. Rick Porcello outperformed his FIP in 2014, and it is possible that Anderson could do the same in a Tigers uniform in 2015.
Why should we stay away?
In case you missed the laundry list of injuries above, let's recap: Anderson has missed time due to injuries of his neck, abdomen, back, elbow, hand, knee, ankle, and foot. He even missed a month while in the minor leagues due to a concussion. He has had one healthy MLB season, and it came all the way back in 2009. Andy Dirks missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing a similar lower back surgery -- though part of that was due to hamstring issues -- and the glass-made Anderson is no guarantee to be healthy in time for Spring Training.
With four excellent starters already in the fold and bigger concerns elsewhere on the roster, I don't think that the Tigers will shop for a fifth starter this offseason. You would like to think that one of Kyle Lobstein, Robbie Ray, Buck Farmer, Drew VerHagen, or Kyle Ryan -- all of whom started in 2014 -- could hold down the spot with decent success in 2015. But if the Tigers decide to go outside the organization for another starter, Anderson is the best low-cost, high-upside guy available. It seems more likely that Anderson will wind up with a team in greater need of starting pitching.