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December 11, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Brett Anderson at Altitude

by Ben Lindbergh, Jordan Gorosh and Ben Carsley

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Chris Jensen for LHP Brett Anderson and $2 million. [12/10]

Most trade rumors leave our minds right after we read them, washed away by the ever-flowing fire hose of even more recent reports. Once in a while, though, a rumor comes along that has some staying power, even though it doesn’t lead to a deal. This is one of the most memorable, from a year ago today:

Passan put that report in his column, too, clarifying that the rejected proposal was for a one-for-one swap. It seemed inexplicable then that the A’s, a team with rotation depth and a history of trading young starters before free agency, would pass up a chance to add the cost-controlled Myers in exchange for a perpetually injured arm with an already skyrocketing salary. It seems even stranger now, after Myers and Anderson both had the 2013 seasons their histories suggested—for Myers, a promotion to the majors and a Rookie of the Year Award, and for Anderson, a long stay on the disabled list. Either Passan whiffed on that one, or Billy Beane did.

If you think of Anderson as a player who—if Passan’s report was accurate—could have commanded Wil Myers a year ago, then Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen seems like an underwhelming return. If you think of him as a former second-round pick, top-10 prospect, and Opening Day starter, or a 6’4”, 235-pound lefty starter who throws 93, then Pomeranz and Jensen seems like an underwhelming return. But if you forget about Anderson’s pedigree and potential and focus on what he is—a pitcher who’s totaled 163 innings over the past three seasons, who hasn’t had a year worth more than half a win since 2010, and who spent the 2013 stretch run in the bullpen (where he allowed a .306/.368/.452 opponent line in a pitcher’s park)—Pomeranz and Jensen starts to sound a bit better. Especially when you consider that Anderson will make $8 million in 2014, with a $1.5 million buyout of a $12 million option for the following season.

In hindsight, Beane could have sold his young starter when he was still a Plan A guy, whether for Myers (maybe) or for someone else more appealing than Pomeranz.

But as Anderson’s fantasy owners can attest, it’s tough to give up on the guy. Given Anderson’s present status as only occasionally undamaged goods, Beane did a decent job of flipping him, shedding $7.5 million of the $9.5 million committed to the southpaw and getting back a starter who’s under team control for five years and no less likely to be useful. A week ago, Doug Fister brought back a potential back-end/mid-rotation starter, a lefty reliever, and a marginally useful utility guy, and Fister’s durability and contract make him a much more valuable asset than Anderson. With that swap in mind, this one makes more sense.

It’s easy to draw parallels between Pomeranz and Anderson. Both are big lefties who were drafted early and rated highly as prospects; both are joining their third organization, having been traded before. Pomeranz, who was rushed to the majors in his first professional season, still seems like a comparatively recent arrival, but he turned 25 last month, making him less than a year younger than Anderson. His results at the big-league level are ugly—he went walk-crazy in small sample work for the Rockies last season, before hitting the DL with biceps tendonitis—but he’s been quite effective in a similarly unwelcoming environment at Colorado Springs, where he’s struck out nearly 10 batters per nine innings while walking fewer than four in 24 starts. Pomeranz’s curveball should be much more effective at sea level, and the A’s have succeeded where the Rockies have struggled when it comes to developing pitchers, making Oakland the perfect place for him to try to iron out his mechanical inconsistencies.

With Jarrod Parker, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, Dan Straily, and A.J. Griffin already penciled into the rotation, Pomeranz can head to Triple-A, where he’ll try to top Tommy Milone on Beane’s speed dial. (Even without Anderson, the A’s still have a southpaw who’s not known for durability.) He doesn’t have Anderson’s upside, but he doesn’t have his injury history, either. If he gives the A’s some league-average-ish innings over the next several seasons, he’ll be well worth the cash sent to Colorado. Chris Jensen gives the A’s some additional rotation depth for the future, as Jordan Gorosh details below. —Ben Lindbergh

Scouting

I saw Chris Jensen throw against Lake Elsinore on May 23. He had nice size for a starter, with big, thick legs. He sat 91-94 (touching 95) with good run, and his fastball had command down in the zone. At times, he lost some FB command to his arm side, up and in to right-handed hitters, but he held his velocity late into the game.

Jensen's change was 83-86, with good arm action but not a lot of movement. At the minor-league level, he was able to get some swings and misses on it because of the subtle velocity difference, but it needs some work to be effective in the majors. His breaking ball was 77-80, and he snapped off a few plus offerings over the course of the game. However, it had the tendency to get loopy at times. Some of his curveballs were of the "minor league" variety, meaning high out of the hand. Others were tight and sharp. For present/future grades, I would go 4/5 on the change, and 4.5/5.5 on the curve.

Overall, I think Jensen has potential as a back-end starter who has the ability to log innings, but he needs to pitch with more conviction and do a better job of attacking hitters in order to put them away. —Jordan Gorosh

Fantasy

Drew Pomeranz

Free at last! It’s dangerous to simply assume a pitcher is going to become leaps and bounds better because he’s leaving Coors Field. But in the case of Pomeranz, the jump in fantasy value here is pretty enormous. He’s going to a good home ballpark and an organization that’s had plenty of success developing young pitching. Pomeranz was good in Triple-A last season and will still be just 25 next season, so it’s certainly within the realm of possibility that he can reach his mid-rotation-starter ceiling.

Pomeranz is unlikely to be handed a job in the rotation, but he has just as much if not more talent than A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, or Tommy Milone, and he should be in the mix for a spot on the starting staff at some point this year. Take a wait-and-see approach with Pomeranz, but fantasy owners couldn’t have asked for a better situation for the left-hander to try to resurrect his career. —Ben Carsley

COLORADO ROCKIES
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired LHP Brett Anderson and $2 million for LHP Drew Pomeranz and RHP Chris Jensen. [12/10]

This isn’t the first time that Anderson’s name has been connected to Colorado; the southpaw’s name also surfaced during the five-year-old trade talks between these two teams that led to the Matt Holliday deal. Instead of Anderson, the Rockies got Greg Smith. The success of Carlos Gonzalez—the centerpiece of that swap—made Smith’s failure easier to swallow, but the Rockies are still searching for starters.

Stuff-wise, Anderson is as good a fit for Coors Field as any pitcher. His groundball rate ranks fifth among pitchers who’ve thrown at least 150 innings over the past three seasons, which should help him avoid the fate that befalls fly-ball pitchers in the thin air of Denver. He also relies on a slider, the better breaking ball to bring to his new ballpark, according to research by Dan Rozenson. Despite his six-plus ERA last season, Anderson’s defense-independent stats fell into in their typical range, and if you want to look on the bright side of his medical history, he hasn’t had an arm injury since returning from 2011 Tommy John surgery.

However, it’s possible to put a less positive spin the move. As Rany Jazayerli wrote in 2004 (and Marc Normandin followed up on seven years later), pitching in Coors can be exhausting:

But one thing the Rockies have figured out—a finding backed up by medical science—in their decade in the mountains: as a result of the thin air, the body recovers from physical exertion slower than it does at sea level.

Mike Hampton threw eight shutout innings in his first start at Coors Field after signing with the Rockies, throwing only 98 pitches. The next day, he said, "I felt like I had been hit by a truck when I got up." The difficulty in recovering from each start was so debilitating that, before he was traded to the Braves, Hampton was planning to outfit his bedroom in Colorado with a pressure chamber so that his muscles might heal faster between starts.

Anderson found it hard enough to heal under normal circumstances; the last thing he needs is to get hit by an altitude truck after every start he manages to make. Concerns about Anderson’s injuries temporarily held up the deal and will continue to dog him, but if by some chance he stays healthy, the Rockies could put together their best rotation in years, with Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, and Tyler Chatwood coming off strong seasons and Jordan Lyles bringing up the rear.

Here’s one way to look at this: Pomeranz needed a new team with which to start over, and his arsenal wasn’t well suited for Coors, so it was time for Colorado to trade him. And as risky as Anderson is, the Rockies aren't on the hook for that much money: If he’s injured again, the team will be out only $7.5 million—less than the Padres gave Josh Johnson—and can non-tender him after next year. If he keeps it together, they’ll have a good starter under team control for 2015 at a below-market rate, or a decent trade chip. Hey, you never know. —Ben Lindbergh

Fantasy

Brett Anderson

This is pretty self-explanatory. Anderson is leaving one of baseball’s best teams and one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in the game for a middling team and the worst home ballpark imaginable. The move from the AL to the NL doesn’t come close to compensating for all the negatives here, and it’s not unfair to say that Anderson is the early front-runner for biggest drop in fantasy value of the offseason.

He’s not worth drafting in standard leagues anymore, no matter how fondly we recall the Anderson of 2009-2011. Couple this trade with Anderson’s injury history and you’ve likely already missed your chance to sell high on him in dynasty leagues, so at this point it’s probably worth hanging on to Anderson and streaming him when he’s away from Coors Field. —Ben Carsley

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here
Jordan Gorosh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jordan's other articles. You can contact Jordan by clicking here
Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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