Second Time’s the Charm for a Tyler Anderson Trade

Tuesday night, the Mariners continued what had already been a busy day, following up the Kendall Graveman trade by acquiring pitcher Tyler Anderson from the Pittsburgh Pirates for catcher Carter Bins and pitcher Joaquin Tejada. Anderson’s had a solid, but unspectacular, season as Pittsburgh’s ace-by-process-of-elimination, putting up a 4.35 ERA and 4.26 FIP in 103 1/3 innings over 18 starts, good for 1.3 WAR.

Anderson’s unlikely to be the best pitcher acquired this week, but he ought to be a solid back-of-rotation pickup by the Mariners, who woke up Wednesday morning just a game behind Oakland for the second Wild Card spot. Anderson was originally set to become the number-three starter for the Phillies instead, but once that trade fell apart, the Mariners swooped in to close a deal themselves.

Given Seattle’s present proximity to the playoffs, it makes sense to shore up one of the team’s weaker areas, especially when it doesn’t involve giving up significant pieces of the future. Two of the rotation’s expected key contributors, Marco Gonzales and Justus Sheffield, have struggled in 2021, and with Sheffield and Justin Dunn currently out with injuries, there’s less in the larder than the M’s would like. There are better pitchers available; bringing in Max Scherzer would be way more fun than incrementally shoring up the starters. But while the M’s aren’t trying to tank, I think the Graveman-Abraham Toro trade — one the team’s players are quite unhappy with — is a strong indication that the team isn’t willing to throw all their chips into the pot to chase this playoff spot.

Anderson’s not really expected to do more than throw five or six league-averageish innings a start. Except for his homer-lucky rookie season and a 2019 marred by knee problems, he’s delivered roughly league-average production whenever he’s been asked. A soft-tossing lefty who wasn’t eaten alive by Coors Field, the former Rockie has survived with decent control, a deceptive delivery — his little leg hitch gives me nightmares in MLB: The Show — and a changeup and cutter that batters have trouble driving. Of concern is the decline in his cutter’s spin rate (it’s down about 200 rpm from before MLB’s crackdown), but that’s a situation a ton of pitchers currently find themselves in.

The Mariners may yet make another trade or two that make this and the Graveman swap a more logical set of dominoes. As it currently stands, the Mariners have a real shot at the playoffs by virtue of where they are in the standings, but are probably an underdog to play October baseball. The probabilities actually got a bit worse than they were with Tuesday morning’s roster, though not dramatically so.

ZiPS Projected Standings – AL West
Team W L GB Pct Div% WC% Playoff% WS Win% #1 Pick Avg Draft Pos
Houston Astros 96 66 .593 91.2% 6.6% 97.8% 15.2% 0.0% 27.4
Oakland A’s 89 73 7 .549 8.2% 42.4% 50.6% 3.2% 0.0% 21.4
Seattle Mariners 83 79 13 .512 0.4% 5.1% 5.4% 0.3% 0.0% 15.6
Los Angeles Angels 82 80 14 .506 0.2% 4.3% 4.5% 0.2% 0.0% 15.3
Texas Rangers 60 102 36 .370 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 13.1% 2.7

With Anderson in Pittsburgh and Graveman in Seattle, ZiPS would have projected the Mariners for a 5.8% chance of making the playoffs rather than 5.4%. In other words, the computer sees staying ahead of all of Oakland, New York, and Toronto as a difficult task that will require some significant breaks going their way.

These projections were made without knowledge that Starling Marte would be joining Oakland, as ZiPS is not magical. The numbers become 4.6% and 4.3% respectively with Marte in Oakland’s outfield.

For the Pirates, Anderson was a free agent at the end of the season, and unlikely to return for the 2022 season. Without him, Pittsburgh arguably has the worst rotation in baseball, but the team’s playoff probabilities at this point only exist as a technicality. Given that they’re not trying to put even a 70-win team together, at this point there’s no reason not to prioritize looking at minor league depth with Anderson’s innings. A Mitch Keller recall looks likely, but they could always surprise and look at someone like Beau Sulser, a non-prospect, but a non-prospect who is at least getting Triple-A batters out.

For more information on the prospects heading to Pittsburgh, I consulted my colleague Kevin Goldstein, who has more insight on prospects in the low minors than I do. First up is Bins, a 22-year-old catcher who hit .284/.422/.493 for the High-A Everett Aqua Sox, but has struggled the last couple of weeks after a promotion to Double-A. ZiPS translates his combined minor league performance at .198/.306/.284, so it’s not expecting him to burst into the majors anytime soon.

Bins has been well known to the scouting community since his high school days in Northern California. He was a 35th-round pick in 2016 by the Phillies as a safety pick who was clearly going to school, and it worked out for him, as he earned a $350,000 bonus as an 11th-round selection by the Mariners out of Fresno State three years later. His scouting reports out of the draft were that he was a defense-first catcher with a patient approach and occasional power, and he’s been just that so far as a pro, with a career batting line of .228/.395/.398 in 101 games while reaching Double-A two weeks ago. Bins draws plenty of walks, but he can be passive at times, which frequently puts him in pitcher’s counts. He has above-average raw power, but doesn’t get to it with great frequency, as a lunging swing with lots of unnecessary hand movement creates all sorts of contact issues and disturbingly high strikeout rates approaching 30%. He’s an active backstop with good hands and a solid arm, and has earned an excellent reputation for his game management and working with pitchers. He profiles as a potential backup who at the least could have a very long pro career as a Triple-A insurance backstop.

Next up is Joaquin Tejada, who made his debut this month in the Dominican Summer League.

Right-handed pitcher Joaquin Tejada’s pro experience consists of a grand total of two games in the Dominican Summer League (which recently got underway), but the 18-year-old product of Panama has seen his frame and velocity grow since signing for $200,000 in the summer of 2019. Tejada’s highly kinetic delivery features a whippy arm action and has a bit of a reliever feel to it, but there’s a lot of athleticism to work with in his 6-foot-1 frame. In the mid-to-high 80s with his fastball when signed, Tejada now sits comfortably at 90 mph and has touched as high as 93 mph this summer, but the real appeal to scouts is a pair of breaking balls that feature exceptionally high spin, approaching the 3000 rpm mark. He has a sinking changeup as well that will need a bit of tightening. His control and command can get loose, as evidenced by his four walks and three hit batters among his quintet of professional innings, but in terms of pure stuff, this is a teenage pitcher with a lot of arrows pointing in the right direction.

I asked Kevin to put himself in the shoes of the Pirates and consider whether he would prefer the prospects from the Mariners or the previously announced prospects from the Phillies (assuming no injury questions), and he told me that he thought the latter return was better but that the difference was “not overwhelming.”

In the end, what does this trade mean for the Mariners, especially with knowledge of the Graveman trade? My hypothesis is that the front office doesn’t see themselves as much more likely to make the playoffs than ZiPS does, so getting an offer they like for Graveman, a free agent after the season, shouldn’t be blocked by a lucky run at the postseason. In this analysis, if the M’s truly only have a one-in-20 shot to make the playoffs whether or not they have Graveman, there’s nothing necessarily inconsistent about filling a hole elsewhere when the prospect cost is minimal. Dipoto being Dipoto, there could be three more trades by Friday that change this picture, but this is where I stand at this moment.

TLDR version: the Mariners are happy to catch lightning in a bottle, but aren’t counting on it, and wouldn’t mind selling the bottle.





Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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“As it currently stands, the Mariners have a real shot at the playoffs by virtue of where they are in the standings.”

The A’s just acquired S. Marte. The M’s might not be in a strong poxition.