Terry Ryan is acutely aware of how difficult it is to acquire front-end starting pitching. After trading Denard Span for Alex Meyer a year ago, he explained the logic
behind giving up an established major-league regular for a player who hadn't yet played above Single-A, noting that with potential No. 1 starters, "Sometimes you've got to get them when they're in the early stages of their pro career or you aren't going to get them, period."
He's right. Once a high-end pitching prospect reaches Triple-A or successfully transitions to the majors, he becomes exceedingly tough to pry away from his organization, because there's basically nothing more valuable in baseball than an inexpensive starter that you can slot near the top of your rotation.
The Twins acquired an exceptional talent in Meyer, and paid a substantial price to do so, but also took on significant risk because the right-hander had made only 25 professional starts and was still multiple levels away from the majors. As Ryan noted, that's just the way you have to play the game unless you're looking to spend exorbitant amounts in free agency (as the Ddogers did last year with Zack Greinke) or give away a massive prospect haul (as the Royals did with James Shields).
The only other ways to bring in a potential ace from the outside are to get creative or get lucky. The Twins have certainly accomplished the latter in the past (see: Johan Santana in the Rule 5 draft) but you can't count on that. I like creative solutions, which is why I'm very intrigued by Oakland's Brett Anderson.
A former second-round draft pick, Anderson rose rapidly through the minor-league ranks, peaking as Baseball America's No. 7 prospect before he debuted in the majors at age 21 in 2009. In his first two seasons with the A's, the left-hander posted a 3.57 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 225/67 K/BB ratio over 287 innings. Those are superb numbers, particularly when you consider his age and experience at the time.
Unfortunately, Anderson was limited to 19 starts in 2010 by a forearm strain, setting off a depressing string of injuries that sent his promising career into a spiral. As is all too often the case, the forearm issue proved a precursor to Tommy John, which the southpaw underwent midway through the 2011 campaign. He spent most of 2012 recovering from the surgery, returning late in the year with strong results, though an oblique strain ended his season a bit prematurely.
In 2013, Anderson appeared poised to make his triumphant return to the scene, but after six appearances he went down with an ankle injury that later turned out to be a stress fracture in his foot, costing him nearly his entire season. He returned in the final month and pitched exclusively out of the bullpen the rest of the way.
With only 163 innings combined over the last three years, Anderson is an enormous durability risk. It's hard to know where he's at right now because there's just not much to go on in the way of recent performance.
He's also owed $8 million next year with a $12 million option for 2015. Given that they made the playoffs without him this season (and just signed Scott Kazmir to a two-year contract), the A's may feel motivated to move Anderson and his salary commitment. So it's no surprise that they are rumored to be floating him
It goes without saying that Anderson is far from a sure thing at this point. But there are a few key points to keep in mind when assessing his situation.
1) He has already undergone Tommy John surgery, so his elbow should theoretically be good to go.
2) The ailments that have bothered him since that surgery -- an oblique strain and a foot fracture -- are non-arm injuries that don't figure to be long-term concerns.
3) He's still only 25.
That last point is a big one. Anderson is a former top prospect who was at one point viewed as one of the finest young hurlers in the game, and he's still in his mid-20s. His circumstances have diminished his potential market, and while Billy Beane isn't exactly the type to give anything away, this is a situation where you could gamble on a special talent without selling the farm.
Make no mistake... it definitely is a gamble. But with their deep farm system, their growing stable of backup-option starters
and their dire need for upper-echelon pitching talent, it's one that the Twins are positioned as well as anyone to take.
They are rumored to be one of the teams that has inquired about the southpaw
, so we'll see if anything progresses next week when Ryan and Beane are both in Orlando for the Winter Meetings.