March 26, 2012; Clearwater, FL, USA; Lars and the real bat (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)
I apologize for being late on this story, but I was in the midst of a 1600-mile, three-day roundtrip road trip between Boston and Michigan when the Indians lone deadline deal went down. This trade is most likely an inconsequential swap of former and never-have-been prospects, but it is possible one or both of these players will defy the odds and make this trade interesting. Kevin Goldstein, ranking all the prospects traded before the deadline, ranked Wright and Anderson as #32 and #33, respectively, out of the 43 prospects dealt (oh no! Indians lose!). I like the deal for Cleveland not because I think Anderson is any more or less likely than Wright to succeed, but because he is more valuable to Cleveland given his position and status than Wright.
Anderson has the pedigree of a former top-prospect (#17 in BA's top 100 prior to 2009), but has stagnated, and ultimately regressed, across three AAA seasons. Anderson, back in 2008, looked like a solid fundamental hitter who would couple strong plate discipline and a good batting average with decent power. Instead, his power has failed to develop as he hits too many balls on the ground (>50% at AAA). His overall line is not unlike a several years younger version of what Jordan Brown or Michael Aubrey eventually did in the upper minors. The hope is that his relative youth and a change of scenery (everyone hits in Columbus, after all) will work to his advantage. Similar style hitters within the organization at the present might include Michael Brantley (without the same contact skills, but with much more size) and Tim Fedroff, both of whom are enjoying mild breakout seasons. Perhaps the Indians can get the same from Anderson.
I have written about Wright's unlikely story before, but projecting him forward is difficult given his relative novice status as a knuckleballer. The success of R.A. Dickey paints an extremely high-end scenario for Wright and given the Red Sox history with Tim Wakefield I am sure they are hoping they can turn Wright into a useful major league pitcher. There is only one R.A. Dickey, though, and there are more than a few failed knuckleball prospects. Two that come to mind are Charlie Zink (a Boston prospect that did not become Wakefield v.2.0) and Charlie Haeger, who spent more than a decade bouncing around with the White Sox, Dodgers and ultimately Boston. What Haeger and Zink share with Wright, to the exclusion of Dickey, is poor control of their knuckleball. Wright has been undoubtedly effective this season, but with a BB-rate approaching 5/9IP. His number is actually very much in line with what Zink (4.8) and Haeger (4.3) did in their careers, well above Dickey's minor league BB-rate (even after he switched to the knuckle). If Wright is going to succeed, he will have to develop better control than he has shown thus far, while maintaining the unpredictability that makes the knuckleball effective.
The real reason I like the deal is what position each player occupies for Cleveland. Wright is a year away from being a minor league free agent, but will be subject to the Rule 5 draft this year if he is not added to the 40-man roster. The Indians need starting pitching, but that does not mean they lack depth in the upper minors. The list of pitchers competing with Wright for the 8th or 9th in line with Cleveland includes Giovanny Soto, Hector Rondon, Austin Adams, T.J. House, T.J. McFarland and Matt Packer. In other words, given his likelihood of succeeding, Wright is redundant within the organization. The same cannot be said of Anderson. Yes, the Indians have a bunch of failed or not-quite prospects in Columbus who could play first base, including Matt LaPorta, Jared Goedert and Russ Canzler. But none of them are younger than 25, and Anderson has two years till he reaches minor league free agency and an option remaining. In other words, the Indians have a two year window to hope Anderson becomes something useful--and of course a gaping hole at his position in Cleveland beginning next year--whereas they very possibly only had one year to do that with Wright.