Shortly after the completion of the Winter Meetings' first trade, the three-team Mark Trumbo deal involving the Angels, Diamondbacks and White Sox, the A's and Rockies pulled off a swap of their own on Tuesday. All three players involved were pitchers; Colorado received oft-injured lefty Brett Anderson, while Oakland obtained lefty Drew Pomeranz, righty Chris Jensen and $2 million cash.
Though he's by far the player with the most major league experience in the deal, the 25-year-old Anderson (26 on February 1) is less than a year older than Pomeranz. Drafted by the Diamondbacks out of an Oklahoma high school in the second round in 2006, Anderson was sent to Oakland in December 2007 in an eight-player deal that also included Carlos Gonzalez (also to Oakland) and Dan Haren (to Arizona); thus he joined Tyler Skaggs among the players traded on Tuesday who had once been dealt for Haren. Ranked as high as number seven on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list prior to the 2009 season, Anderson made 30 starts as a rookie, but he's made just 43 (plus 11 relief appearances) in the four seasons since due to an endless string of injuries; over the past three seasons, he's thrown a combined 163 innings, one more than it takes to qualify for the ERA title in a single year.
Anderson underwent Tommy John surgery in July 2011, and returned to make a strong showing late in the 2012 season. His 2.57 ERA in six starts helped the A's snatch the AL West flag away from the Rangers, and he threw six innings of shutout ball in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Tigers. He missed four months in 2013 due to an ankle sprain and a stress fracture, both in his right foot; scratched from his April 29 start due to the ankle, he wound up throwing 5 1/3 innings and 79 pitches in a 19-inning win over the Angels, then went on the DL the next day. He didn't return until late August, and pitched out of the bullpen the rest of the way, notching three saves but getting hit hard. He finished the year with a beefy 6.04 ERA in 44 2/3 innings of work.
The Rockies hope he can do better than that in terms of both health and performance, obviously, something more in line with his career 3.81 ERA and 7.1 strikeouts per nine. No doubt they were attracted to his career 55 percent groundball rate, the 13th-highest among the 153 pitchers with at least 400 innings since the start of 2009. In Colorado, he'll join a rotation that includes Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood and the newly-acquired Jordan Lyles, a reasonably promising and relatively young quintet in which only De La Rosa is beyond his age 26 season. Anderson will make $8 million in 2014, and has a $12 million option with a $1.5 million buyout for 2015.
Pomeranz has a spotty health track record himself. The overall number five pick in 2010 by the Indians out of the University of Mississippi, he was traded to Colorado in the Ubaldo Jimenez deal in August 2011; shortly afterwords, he underwent an appendectomy, though he did return to make four September starts. Coming into 2012 ranked 30th on BA's list, he batted hip and quad ailments, making 22 starts but totaled just 96 2/3 innings as the team experimented with a four-man rotation and 75-pitch limits. He finished the year with a respectable 4.93 ERA (94 ERA+) and 7.7 strikeouts per nine, though his 1.3 homers and 4.3 walks per nine were both cause for concern. He made just four big league starts and four relief appearances in 2013, missing over a month and a half due to biceps tendonitis; he also made 16 starts in the minors, 15 at Triple-A Colorado Springs, where he put up a 4.20 ERA while whiffing 10.1 per nine. Overall in his big league career, Pomeranz has a 5.20 ERA with 7.6 strikeouts per nine in 136 2/3 innings.
In Oakland, Pomeranz will have to wait for a rotation opening via injury, trade or demotion, as the team is set with Jarrod Parker, Scott Kazmir, Sonny Gray, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily. The A's feel he still retains considerable upside, so it's not out of the question he could leapfrog Straily with a strong spring.
As for Jensen, he was a sixth-round 2011 pick out of the University of San Diego who spent 2013 at High-A Modesto, where he threw 152 1/3 innings over 28 starts while striking out 8.0 per nine en route to a 4.55 ERA. ESPN Insider's Keith Law described him as " just a guy, a right-handed starter with control but not command, showing below-average arm speed on a low-90s fastball and no out pitch." In other words, he's window dressing on the deal. Perhaps he'll come up with an out pitch as he works his way up the ladder, perhaps not. In the end, this is essentially a challenge trade, with both teams hoping that time and a change of scenery will allow their new lefty to unlock some of the vast potential scouts previously saw in him. The A's have done well in the past in that regard, with Parker and Brandon McCarthy among their recent success stories; it hasn't hurt that those pitchers have moved to a much more forgiving ballpark, as Pomeranz is doing. The Rockies, meanwhile, have added a pitcher who's at least equipped to survive in their uniquely difficult environment, and who has been part of a recently successful team. In all, this is a deal where both teams got something to like.