Wednesday Rockpile: Brett Anderson trade is a risk worth taking by the Rockies

Gregory Shamus

The Brett Anderson for Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen trade is exactly the kind of move I've been exhorting the Rockies to make for years now.

Now this is much better. After the catastrophe that was the Dexter Fowler trade last week, Rockies fans were reeling. One week later, the Rockies actually addressed one of their biggest holes by trading for Brett Anderson, a soon to be 26 year-old lefty for the Oakland A's who was that team's Opening Day starter and has a proven MLB track record of success.

For your convenience, I've curated a rich sample of the reactions of the Internet baseball community to the Anderson trade. I definitely encourage you to read some of the takes enclosed in that post, as they were somewhat instructive in developing my own opinion on the deal. Here's the executive summary of that opinion:

The Brett Anderson for Drew Pomeranz and Chris Jensen trade is exactly the kind of move I've been exhorting the Rockies to make for years now. It has the Rockies sending a young pitcher who was struggling at altitude (and might have never figured it out) for a talented player who, if healthy, slots nicely (and comfortably) into Colorado's 2014 rotation.

A look at the assets involved in the deal:

To the Rockies

Brett Anderson - Left-handed pitcher, Twitter enthusiast, Risky

Contract: Anderson is owed $8 million in 2014 ($6 million from the Rockies) with a $12 million club option in 2015 or a $1.5 million buyout

Strengths

  • Anderson's a top prospect (ranked as high as #7 by Baseball America) who actually lived up to his billing, posting an excellent 2.3 rWAR age 21 season in 2009 of 175 IP - and was similarly valuable in 2010 at age 22 in far fewer innings pitched. Has posted an above average ERA+ over 100 (so, better than league average) every year except 2013 and his career 3.81 ERA is accompanied by an even better 3.52 xFIP.
  • His profile is pretty much perfect for Coors Field - he's an extreme groundball pitcher (career 54.9%) with a nasty strikeout slider (which isn't as affected by altitude) as well as a plus curveball (he'll have to back off of that at Coors). He's got a great feel for pitching and has plus command per Keith Law.
  • He'll turn 26 in February (just like me!), meaning he's less than a year older than the pitcher he's being traded for and that he's theoretically entering his prime years as a pitcher.
  • He appears to be an excellent follow on Twitter:

Weaknesses

  • Injuries. RIRF did a good job yesterday at summarizing Anderson's injury history. Anderson has thrown just 163 innings in the last three years and has had injuries to his forearm, elbow, oblique, and foot. Health is a skill and Anderson doesn't seem to possess it. Unfortunately, the additional fatigue inherent with pitching at altitude is really not a good environment for a pitcher with injury problems.
  • After coming back last year from a stress fracture in his foot, Anderson wasn't very effective even when pitching out of the bullpen in a forgiving environment. He posted career worsts in ERA, WHIP, and ERA+ in a limited (45 IP) sample size (and with an elevated BABIP).
  • Anderson's a risk in that he's owed $7.5 million at minimum by the Rockies and has a maximum of two years of team control if Colorado exercises his $12 million option in 2015.
  • Dan Szymborski likes this deal for the Rockies, but his ZIPS projection system doesn't think Anderson will be very healthy this year:

Summary

Anderson is a big risk for the Rockies given his injury history and the environment he'll be pitching in, but it's a worthy one for the Rockies. If he can give the Rockies 100+ innings, Anderson will give the Rockies a very competent starting rotation top to bottom, especially if Jordan Lyles can give the team anything. Anderson's as good a fit in terms of style for the Rockies as they could acquire, and he'll also have a stellar infield defense behind him to field all of those groundballs - I'm guessing we see a nice regression on his BABIP next year.

To the Athletics

Drew Pomeranz - Left-handed pitcher, Rebel, Not Ubaldo

Contract: Pomeranz is a pre-arbitration player with five years of team control remaining (through 2018)

Strengths

  • Pomeranz has a first round pedigree (5th overall in 2010) and was named the #14 prospect in baseball as recently as 2011.
  • He's been elite at the minor league level, including a career 2.97 ERA and 10.0 K/9 rate
  • Pomeranz kills lefties - in his 137 big league innings, lefties have hit just .165/.248/.208 against him. This indicates that Pomeranz has a floor of a very good LOOGY at the big league level.
  • He just turned 25 and has five years of team control remaining - there's definitely quite a bit of upside still here

Weaknesses

  • Pomeranz is a nibbler - he tries to get too fine and works on the margins against elite hitting. This means that he throws a lot of pitches and fails to get length in his starts (he's averaged 4 1/3 innings per start in his big league career).
  • Quite simply, Pomeranz didn't have command of his pitches at Coors and in MLB. This was especially true against right-handers, who have hit an insane .298/.388/.500 against him in the Show. Basically every right-handed hitter is an All-Star against Drew.
  • His mechanics are inconsistent at best, leading to the aforementioned nibbling as well as a loss in velocity from the advertised 95 MPH to 90-91 in a Rockies uniform.

Summary

While Pomeranz had quite an excellent bullpen stint last September, I didn't see him ever being truly successful for the Rockies as a starter. It's a great move for him personally, as he moves to a pitcher's park and a team with a much better track record in pitcher development.

Chris Jensen - Right-handed pitcher, High A prospect

Jensen is a 23 year-old pitcher who threw at High A Modesto in 2013. He had a good enough year that the Purple Row community voted him in as the #26 Purple Row Prospect this summer. Here is a link to his blurb from that list. Finally, here's a scouting report on him from Baseball Prospectus's Jordan Garosh:

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.

In summary, Jensen is a decent depth arm who's a long-shot to make a major league impact - an acceptable loss for an arm like Anderson.

Colorado's motivation for making the Anderson trade

Unlike the Dexter Fowler trade, this one's actually pretty simple - the Rockies wanted to shore up the middle of their rotation with a proven MLB starter. In so doing, Colorado moves erstwhile 5th starter candidates like Lyles, Chad Bettis, and Christian Friedrich to either AAA or the bullpen and makes Juan Nicasio fight for his slot in the rotation. This is great news for Rockies fans.

In Conclusion

This is the kind of move that Colorado absolutely had to make if they were interested in contending in 2014. A healthy rotation of Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa, Anderson, Tyler Chatwood, and Juan Nicasio might be the best group of arms the Rockies have ever assembled. It's a rotation that, combined with a bullpen the Rockies seem committed to rebuilding this offseason, will keep the Rockies competitive in more games in 2014.

Yes, taking on $7.5 million for an injury-prone pitcher in Anderson is a considerable risk, especially for a team as risk-averse and budget-conscious as the Rockies are (I'm actually very surprised that they made this deal). However, it's a risk that absolutely needed to be taken by Colorado, a team who has struggled and will continue to struggle to attract talented starting pitchers on the free agent market.

If Anderson can regain his 2009-2010 form, he'll be an extreme bargain for Colorado and, if things don't work out on the contention front, he'll be an intriguing trade chip for the team at the deadline. I think that Drew Pomeranz will become a much better MLB asset than he ever would have in Colorado and Chris Jensen got his name read by a lot of people who otherwise might never have done so. Win-Win. Well, except for Anderson's fantasy value.

I would like the deal even more for Colorado's 2014 contention chances if the Rockies hadn't traded away Dexter Fowler as well, but perhaps Anderson + Morneau + Lyles + Barnes is the answer we've all been searching for.

Los Links!

Check out Drew's post on bullpen targets the Rockies have been linked to at the Winter Meetings (particularly Sean Marshall of the Reds). Marshall would be an excellent addition to the bullpen, though he's a little pricey for a reliever. I expect the Rockies to add another piece to the pen before the week is out. Greg should have a post in the near future about where all of this leaves the Rockies from a roster flexibility standpoint.

Troy Renck has some thoughts on who should leadoff next year for the Rockies. Hidden in there is a quote from Weiss that indicates it will probably be either Charlie Blackmon or Corey Dickerson, with DJ LeMahieu hitting second. Second base has to hit second!

Renck also offers some thoughts on the perils of developing young pitchers at altitude - specifically on Pomeranz and Alex White.

OFF-TOPIC.

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