The Winter Meetings start this week, and if last year is any indication, we’ll likely see the Brewers’ name come up in multiple rumors as David Stearns does his due diligence on any potential upgrades.
If we’re expecting the Brewers to end up with a payroll in the $110-120 million range, they’ll have $15 to $20 million to work with. That likely rules them out from any of the big name free agents, and would seem to limit them to just a couple mid-level upgrades. That’s why if anything, trades may be more likely this winter — especially if it involves moving some of the team’s guaranteed contracts on the books that may not have a clear role heading into the 2019 season.
That brings us to Chase Anderson.
One of the Brewers’ breakout stars in the rotation in 2017, Anderson signed a multi-year contract last winter guaranteeing him $11.75 million between 2018 and 2019 (with him being due $6 million in 2019), and team options for $8.5 million in 2020 and $9.5 million in 2021.
It’s a deal that’d be a steal if he pitched like the front-of-the-rotation guy he was in 2017. While things didn’t work out that way for Anderson and the Brewers in 2018, he was still a league-average pitcher despite the home run problems that pushed his ERA to 3.93 this past year. Going forward, it still looks like a reasonable contract.
That could make Anderson an interesting trade chip this winter, especially with his spot in the rotation no longer looking like a sure thing after he was bumped from his last couple starts in September and didn’t make the cut on the team’s highly-specialized postseason roster. While he may no longer be a favorite for a starting role in Milwaukee, he could be an option for a team looking for a solid starter on a reasonable contract.
Anderson’s phenomenal 2017 season was powered by a spike in his velocity, with his fastball averaging 93.1 mph — a full 2 mph higher than his first season with the Brewers. That helped him pitch up in the zone more effectively and led to career-high strikeout numbers, with a 23.4% K% and averaging 8.47 strikeouts per 9 innings.
For whatever reason, he was never quite able to replicate that extra zip on his fastball in 2018. His season got off to a tough start, suffering from a stomach bug that almost cost him his start on Opening Day and the infamous faceplant that caused him to momentarily black out (although he passed a concussion test between innings). Those factors would help explain away the early-season dip in velocity, but it never returned to 2017 levels, even as Anderson tried to pitch the same way he did the year before.
He was eventually able to get his average fastball up to 92.4 mph in 2018, but without that extra mile-per-hour, the fastballs up in the zone that were drawing swings and misses in 2017 were instead getting hit, and hit hard. Anderson ended up giving up 30 home runs in 30 starts, but his ERA still remained respectable for much of the year because those often ended up being solo home runs — and the sometimes the only extra-base hits and runs he was allowing.
With the way the game is changing with more hitters swinging for the fences, giving up 30 home runs in a season may no longer be quite the mark of shame it used to be — similar to a batter striking out 200 times in a season. Anderson is still by and large a solid starting pitcher on a decent contract that plenty of teams could find useful in the middle of their rotation. Pitchers of his caliber would still likely command $8-10 million on the open market, and he’s still only 31 in 2019.
Even the Brewers likely wouldn’t mind having him around, but if they need to get creative with their payroll to improve the team in other areas this winter, trying to move his $6 million might make sense if he no longer fits into the team’s long-term plans.
With all of that in mind, it wouldn’t be too surprising if Anderson was actually included as part of a trade for one of the aces the Brewers are rumored to have checked in on. The Mets may be trying to trade Noah Syndergaard, but their trade for Robinson Cano and Edwin Diaz seems to indicate they’re also trying to compete. Cleveland may be trying to trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, but is still likely to be the favorites in the AL Central even if they do. Either team could still use a pitcher like Anderson to help fill the hole they’d be creating in the rotation while still trying to contend.
If he isn’t used as part of a larger package for an ace, Anderson could still provide some trade value in a different type of deal, possibly helping rebuild the depleted Brewers farm system by bringing back a solid prospect or two. While it’s unlikely he’d bring back an impact prospect, the Milwaukee system is in desperate need of rebuilding some of its depth after trading much of it away at the deadline for Jonathan Schoop, Mike Moustakas and Joakim Soria.
The Brewers front office reportedly met with Anderson shortly after the season ended and smoothed over any hard feelings there may have been over him being dropped from the rotation in the season’s final weeks and not being put on the postseason roster after the injury to Gio Gonzalez, but with arms like Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff looking ready to hold down spots in the rotation, it’s debatable as to whether Anderson still is one of the 5 or 6 best options the Brewers have for the starting rotation. If that’s the case, moving on might be the best for everyone involved.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs