TORONTO — This isn’t how many envisioned the Toronto Blue Jays using their vast amounts of financial wiggle room this off-season, but rebuilding an atrocious rotation will take time and this is just the start.
In acquiring right-hander Chase Anderson from the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday morning, the Jays moved quickly to secure an arm that was hours away from hitting the open market, giving them a starter to slide into the back end of what’s expected to be a revamped rotation by spring training.
The Brewers had a decision to make on Anderson’s $8.5-million option for 2020, and it was clear the soon-to-be 32-year-old was a tad pricey for the Brew Crew’s decision-makers.
But one team’s trash is another team’s treasure, and the pitching-needy Blue Jays sent first base prospect Chad Spanberger, who was acquired in 2018 from the Colorado Rockies in the Seunghwan Oh trade, to Milwaukee in order to take on Anderson’s contract option, which they immediately exercised.
While Anderson is far from a solution to the rotation woes that plagued the Jays in 2019, he’s also a pitcher who carries a career ERA of 3.94 and his 1.2 fWAR would’ve been second best amongst this year’s rag-tag group of starters, behind only Trent Thornton’s 1.9.
Anderson’s 2019 ERA of 4.21 would’ve been better than every single Blue Jays starter that was able to make double-digit starts and wasn’t traded.
You have to, of course, factor in the environment differences between the National League Central and the American League East, but the point is Anderson comes with a big-league resume and a fairly clean injury history, which is something that came back to bite the Jays with their off-season rotation additions last winter.
The Jays can afford the $8.5 million, and if Anderson pitches well, even the $9.5 million option for 2021, his final year of team control, might look attractive when all is said and done.
Meanwhile, Spanberger is a fringy first base prospect who struggled in his first taste of Double-A last season as a 24-year-old. They’re not giving up much.
If there’s an obvious flaw in Anderson’s profile, it’s that he’s allowed far too many home runs over the past two seasons.
This season, it was 23 long balls in 139 innings.
In 2018, the Wichita Falls, Texas, native was touched for 30 of them in 158 innings.
But it’s Anderson’s 2017 season that provides, potentially, a bit of hope and upside if the Jays and pitching coach Pete Walker can make some changes.
That season, Anderson made 25 starts and was a revelation for the Brewers, posting a 2.74 ERA across 141.1 frames.
According to Statcast, Anderson relied on a varied five-pitch mix in 2019, throwing a four-seamer (41.7 per cent), a changeup (23.3 per cent), a cutter (18 per cent), a hook (9.8 per cent) and a sinker (7.1 per cent).
The changeup and cutter graded out as excellent offerings, while the two fastballs were just OK, and the curveball was pounded.
There are some within the Blue Jays organization that believe tweaking his pitch usage — the ol’ Houston Astros trick — could benefit Anderson next season, but it’s hard to imagine the Brewers completely overlooking that in this analytical era.
Throw Anderson into a rotation mix that currently includes Thornton, Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, Jacob Waguespack and T.J. Zeuch.
Yes, to the chagrin of some, the Jays are still working the fringes of the roster and intent on building depth, but it’s a good sign the club set out to improve an area of obvious need early in the off-season, rather than wait to see what back-end rotation options remain when the free agency dust settles in January.
Now, about the top of that rotation …