Rebuilding teams often find themselves in a pretty unique position -- they can act as a proving ground for career journeymen, the constantly-passed-over or the often-injured.
Bring us your sick and your poor and guys that can't hit a breaking pitch. The rebuilding team gets the benefit of giving these guys plenty of playing time, and if they finally succeed, the team can trade the guy for some unexpected returns.
My example for this will forever be the 2013 Chicago Cubs and Scott Feldman.
Feldman was an okay-yet-thoroughly unimpressive pitcher for many years for the Texas Rangers. In November 2012, the Cubs signed him to a one-year, $6 million contract with an extra $1 million in incentives after he just finished a season in which he put up a 5.09 ERA in 29 appearances (21 starts), allowed more than 10 hits per 9 innings, and struck out only 7 per 9 innings.
Plenty of people thought the Cubs were nuts for either A: giving a pitcher like that $6 million or B: buying pitchers on the free agent after they lost 100 games that season and figured to have a long rebuilding road ahead.
Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer & Co. were able to look past the surface numbers, realize Feldman was an excellent bounceback candidate that had mid-rotation ability, and when he put up a 3.46 ERA in 15 starts, they were able to flip him that July with Steve Clevenger for a package of Pedro Strop, cash and ... Jake Arrieta.
Now, nobody -- even the most stat-conscious folks and the people who still believed in Arrieta as a prospect -- could've imagined he'd turn into one of the best pitchers in the National League. But that deal is an example of what can be possible for a rebuilding team willing to take on a reclamation project. Even if Arrieta was a mid-rotation guy and Pedro Strop pitched like Pedro Strop, that turns out to be an outstanding deal.
Enter Brett Anderson this winter.
If you forgot he was still in the league, it’s okay. After a 6th-place finish in the 2009 Rookie of the Year race with Oakland, Anderson turned a great 19 starts in 2010, putting up an ERA of 2.80 (3.21 FIP) with 75 strikeouts and just 22 walks in 112.1 innings. But he battled injuries that year. And in 2011 (13 starts). And in 2012 (6 starts). And in 2013 (16 games, 5 starts) and 2014 with Colorado (8 starts).
The Dodgers took a chance on him after that, and he proceeded to throw 180.1 very solid innings, with a 3.94 FIP and inducing groundballs on a ridiculous 66.3% of balls put in play against him. He was back! He felt so good about himself that he turned down several multi-year free agent offers to take the Dodgers' qualifying offer in an attempt to earn more in this winter's free agent market.
And then he threw his back out throwing live BP in spring training this year, had to have surgery to repair a bulging disc, made his season debut in August, got rocked in his first start, sprained his wrist in his second start trying to tag a guy at first base, developed a blister in a rehab start, then came back for two starts in late September. That's a total of 4 appearances (3 starts), spanning 11.1 innings in which he gave up 15 runs on 25 hits. I'm going to guess that's not what he had in mind when he turned down a long-term contract.
So why in the world should the Brewers target this guy?
Well, when he's healthy, he brings a few things that are currently lacking in the Brewers' rotation -- he doesn't walk guys, he keeps the ball in the park and he keeps the ball on the ground. His career average BB% is 6.3%, and only Zach Davies beat that number this past year (5.6%). His career HR/9 is 0.83, and only Junior Guerra beat that number this past year (0.74). His career GB% is 58.2%, and nobody got close to beating that number this past year (Matt Garza was closest at 54.8%). He also throws baseballs with his left hand, which is just crazy.
Despite the long injury history, Anderson will only be in his age-29 season in 2017. He had Tommy John surgery in 2011, but that's the only arm injury he's suffered on the long list of ailments that have cost him to miss time. Much of the rest were freak accidents and broken bones that weren't the result of wear and tear, so there's some reason to be optimistic about the lack of mileage on his arm.
Still, his general lack of availability every 5th day is likely stifling his market. He's been left off a couple Top 50 Free Agent lists, and there isn't a lot of chatter about where he might be headed. That might help a small-market team like the Brewers if they were hoping to fly under the radar and take a chance on the former top prospect (#7 overall by Baseball America in 2009).
Anderson is almost assuredly looking at another one-year show-me deal, though this one probably for less than the $15.8 million he made on last year's qualifying offer. The value of his eventual contract likely won't be prohibitive for a team like the Brewers, who have plenty of money to play with if they so choose. Even if he needs Tommy John again, it’s not like the Brewers would have had a lot riding on a one-year gamble.
If the Brewers do manage to sign him with the intention of flipping him, it wouldn't be the first time he's traded. He (along with Chris Carter, coincidentally) were part of the ridiculous return the A's got for Daren Haren in the winter of 2007, and he fetched Drew Pomeranz from Colorado when Oakland traded him before the 2014 season.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs