LOS ANGELES -- Brett Anderson estimates that half the teams in baseball checked in on him early in the offseason. By the winter meetings, the serious suitors were down to fewer than half a dozen, he said. Within a few weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers stood alone, signing him to a one-year, $10 million deal that could be worth as much as $14 million if he reaches all the incentives.
That's big money for a pitcher who has eclipsed 150 innings in his career only once, when he was a rookie, and has already undergone elbow reconstruction and been on the 60-day disabled list twice in one season (last season) for unrelated injuries.
"Yes and no," Anderson said when asked if he views his signing as a risky one. "Due to my track record, it's hard to say. I haven't been able to go out as consistently as I would like and the teams I've played for would have liked, but then again a lot of the injuries have been fluky things."
Anderson has yet to get back on a mound five months removed from surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back, but he said he expected to do so in the coming week. Working with a sports medicine physician in Arizona, he says he thinks he has identified the source of his back problem and has come up with a series of hip exercises he can continue throughout the season.
Speaking on a conference call Wednesday, Anderson sounded a lot like Brandon McCarthy, the other major pitching addition to the Dodgers' staff this offseason. McCarthy says he thinks a new regimen helped keep his right shoulder healthy throughout a full season for the first time in 2013.
If you discount the finger Anderson broke while he was in the batter's box, and believe that a 26-year old pitcher who has already undergone Tommy John surgery is capable of rebounding strongly, Anderson could prove to be a bargain on a one-year deal. So could McCarthy, who pitched 200 innings last year and had a better than 5-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Dodgers signed McCarthy, 30, to a four-year, $48 million deal coming out of the winter meetings.
Dodgers president Andrew Friedman, vice president of player personnel Josh Byrnes and general manager Farhan Zaidi may have identified a new market inefficiency, or at least they'd like to think so: teams becoming overly wary of pitchers with injury histories.
As if to hammer the point home, they even took a flyer by signing Erik Bedard to a minor league deal this week. Bedard once had ace-like potential before a chronically sore left shoulder torpedoed his career.
Risky as these signings are, they're not exactly shots in the dark, which is probably more than could be said of the Dodgers' deal with Brian Wilson two summers ago. Wilson was coming off his second bout with Tommy John surgery and nobody, including Wilson, had any idea whether his arm would hold up. It did for a few months, but within days of the Dodgers' opener in 2014, Wilson was feeling a familiar tingling in his elbow and his ineffectiveness was a major issue for the Dodgers' bullpen all the way through their playoff series.
The Dodgers' front office did some serious reconnaissance work on Anderson and McCarthy. Both pitchers had to spend a half day or so being examined by team doctors. Anderson said he had to undergo a stress test, an MRI exam, CT scans and bone scans, with doctors looking closely for any signs of abnormalities.
"Then again, I imagine all the physicals I get from here on out will be above and beyond the normal ones," Anderson said.
A front office like the Dodgers' will spend more time than most trying to find an edge in a competitive market. That's what Friedman was trained to do when he was at the Tulane business school or working on Wall Street. Zaidi came from the team, the Oakland A's, that finds a new unifying philosophy every offseason. Everybody soon caught up on the value of on-base percentage. The next fad, strong fielding, eventually permeated the league. Who knows, maybe next winter teams will stock up on pitchers once written off as injury liabilities. That could depend how long Anderson and McCarthy pitch and how late the Dodgers play.