Last week I looked at a group of potential reclamation projects on the starting pitching market. I didn’t include players who had option years, since it wasn’t known at the time whether those options would be executed or not. Several of those decisions were made this weekend, providing two more potential reclamation projects on the open market.
The first guy who caught my attention was Brandon Morrow. The Blue Jays declined his $10 M option, making him a free agent. Morrow has outstanding stuff, with a fastball that has averaged 94 MPH in his career. He has struck out over a batter an inning in his career, but has struggled with control issues. He hasn’t had a good career ground ball rate, but something changed last year, as he had a 50.5% rate, up from his 38.3% career mark. The Pirates have had most of their success from strikeout pitchers with poor control and good ground ball rates, after fixing the control issues.
The downside with Morrow comes with his injury history. He has only pitched more than 150 innings once in his career, which was his career high 179.1 innings in 2011. He has pitched a combined 87.2 innings over the last two seasons. He missed two months in 2012 with an oblique injury, four months in 2013 with an entrapped radial nerve in his right forearm, and only pitched one month in 2014 after tearing a tendon in his right hand. The good news in all of this is that there aren’t any injuries that could derail his career, such as a shoulder injury. The downside is that Morrow isn’t a guy who could be counted on for a full season of work.
That doesn’t mean he’s not a good option. He’d be a gamble, but if he stayed healthy and the Pirates fixed him, he would be a top of the rotation guy. The fact that Toronto declined his option suggested that no one else would have paid his $10 M option (assuming Toronto would have taken any return rather than paying $1 M for his buyout). That means he should cost less than $10 M, and likely in the price of what 1-1.5 wins would cost on the open market. During his healthy years, he was a 2.5-3.6 WAR pitcher, which means there’s a lot of potential value here.
The other player who caught my attention was Brett Anderson. The Rockies declined his $12 M option, paying his $1.5 M buyout instead. Anderson is very much like Morrow. He’s dealt with a ton of injuries, but has looked good when healthy. He has averaged 91.8 MPH with his fastball, which is good for a lefty. That velocity was down in 2014, although that might have been due to his back injury, which sidelined him from August to the end of the season. His velocity was fine in the early part of the season, and dipped before he went on the DL. He also fractured his left index finger, which could have played a role in the velocity loss. His worst outings, from a velocity standpoint, were right after returning from the finger injury, and before leaving with a back injury.
Anderson is an extreme ground ball pitcher, topping 60% in each of the last two seasons. He’s got decent strikeout numbers in his career, and good walk rates. His career xFIP is 3.52, and he’s been in that range almost every year of his career, with the exception of 2012-13, when he was in the 3.06-3.26 range. Just like Morrow, the challenge here would be keeping Anderson healthy for a full season. He has pitched a combined 206.1 innings over the last four seasons, so the challenge with Anderson seems a bit higher. That said, the value should be much lower than Morrow, with Anderson possibly costing something in the $5 M range.
Morrow is the guy I like better, as there is less perceived injury risk, and more potential upside. But there could be value with either guy, as long as the Pirates could keep them healthy. I’m not sure if I like either one better than my top choice, Justin Masterson. But if their options had been declined when I wrote the article last week, they would have easily made my list, and would have been some of the top options on that list.