Apart from internal candidate David Cooper, who played with Double-A New Hampshire for the second straight season in 2010, the list of available Triple-A first basemen in the Blue Jays’ system is slim.
Looking to the trade market, one name that jumps out is Lars Anderson, who is now the top-ranked first base prospect in the Boston Red Sox Minor League system. He’s positionally blocked after a trade sent Anthony Rizzo (plus three more prospects) to the San Diego Padres, which netted the Red Sox their shiny new toy: Three-time All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez.
As it stands right now, Gonzalez is only under contract for the 2011 season at an affordable $6.2-million, but it’s only a matter of time before he signs a lucrative long term extension with the Red Sox. It would seem highly unlikely that the Red Sox would send Casey Kelly, Anthony Rizzo, Reymond Fuentes (Baseball America’s #1, #3, and #6 Red Sox prospects last month, respectively), as well as Eric Patterson (younger brother of new Blue Jay Corey Patterson) to San Diego for just one year of Adrian Gonzalez.
Even though the Red Sox were unable to sign Gonzalez to a contract extension before the trade was initially announced, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein is confident it will get done during the season:
“We got close to a deal, but in the end, the window lapsed and we didn’t have a deal. … There wasn’t a single person who felt like, at the end of the day, we won’t get a deal done when the time is right.”
“I’m not going to come here and be like, ‘OK, we’ll see you at free agency and see if you outbid the other teams.’ We’ll negotiate during the season. We’re going to be fair. We won’t be looking for record-breaking deals. We just want market value.”
What’s market value? A 7-8 year deal that pays over $20 million per season. If Gonzalez gets locked up in a Red Sox uniform for that long, Lars Anderson can virtually kiss his future in Boston goodbye, unless he wants to be a full-time DH.
Anderson is a 6’4”, 215-pound first baseman that throws and bats left-handed. He was ranked as the #87 prospect in baseball before the 2010 season by Baseball America.
Initially pegged to be selected in between the first and second rounds of the 2006 draft, Anderson had an inexperienced agent that labeled him with a $1M pricetag, which caused him to plummet down the draft board and finally be selected in the 18th round by the Red Sox. He drew comparisons to former Blue Jay Carlos Delgado in that he generates power easily and has the ball explode off his bat. The main knocks on Anderson at the time were that he needed to fill out his tall frame (190 lbs in 2006) and improve defensively at first base. Having signed late in 2006, Anderson had to wait untill 2007 to make his professional debut.
Anderson looked so good in 2007 Spring Training that he was fast-tracked by the Red Sox and started off the season with Class-A Greenville, skipping Low-A altogether. His .288/.385/.443 line, along with 10 HR and 69 RBI in 124 games with Greenville that season earned him a promotion to Hi-A Lancaster for 10 games, where he went 12-for-35 (.343), and drew 11 walks while hitting one home run and driving in nine runs. Unsurprisingly, Baseball America ranked Anderson as Boston’s #3 prospect after the 2007 season, and he was considered to have the best bat and best power potential in the Red Sox system. He made the necessary adjustments defensively as well, as managers rated him the best defensive first baseman in the South Atlantic League.
The main thing Anderson had to work on in 2008 was being more aggressive at the plate and pulling pitches, because he had always been a very patient hitter that would draw walks or hit balls to the opposite field. Anderson definitely responded to those suggestions, because he hit a combined .317/.417/.517 line with 18 HR and 80 RBI in 118 games split between Double-A Portland and the hitter-friendly Hi-A Lancaster. Anderson’s unbelievable improvements allowed him to be ranked as Boston’s #1 Prospect by Baseball America after the 2008 season, and the #17 prospect in all of baseball before the 2009 season. There was even talk that he would be able to crack Boston’s roster at some point in 2009.
It was that year, in 2009, where Anderson’s performance went south. After being recognized by the Red Sox for improving defensively, being a diligent worker, and demonstrating exceptional intelligence and maturity, Anderson struggled the entire season, which he spent at Double-A Portland. When he struggled, Anderson toyed with his swing and became more pull-conscious, pressing to hit home runs. Nothing worked at all, and he hit just .154 with one home run after the all-star break.
Despite his struggles, he was still considered the best power bat in Boston’s system, and could still exhibit great plate discipline to draw walks. He was ranked as Boston’s #4 prospect at the end of 2009 by Baseball America, and the Red Sox were hoping he would learn from his struggles and appear at the Triple-A level at some point in 2011.
This past season, Anderson bounced back fairly well from his struggles in 2009. He earned a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket after just 17 games with Double-A Portland, where he raked a .355/.428/.677 line. Anderson’s first stint at the Triple-A level wasn’t electrifying, as he hit .262/.340/.428 in 113 games there in 2010, but he still held his own and made strides defensively. He earned a late season call up to The Show though, where he appeared in 18 games with the Red Sox.
Lars Anderson is exactly the type of player that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has been salivating over ever since he replaced J.P. Ricciardi. Anderson is a young, controllable player with high-upside, who would mature on the same schedule as a large part of the Blue Jays’ current prospect pool. He turned just 23-years-old last month, and has a lot more seasoning at first base over any other Blue Jays 1B prospect.
He is quite similar to Adam Lind though: a left-handed hitter and thrower, who has power potential at the plate and struggles more against southpaws rather than against right-handed pitching.
Lind was also just signed to a team-friendly contract extension in April 2010, which pays him $5M for the 2011-2013 seasons, and $7M, $7.5M, and $8M through club options for the 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons, respectively.
While it’s unknown whether or not the Red Sox would even be open to dealing Lars Anderson at all, let alone inside the AL East, he has virtually no future in Boston now with the arrival of Adrian Gonzalez. He would provide immediate, close to the Major Leagues depth at first base for the Blue Jays, which is something that they are lacking right now.
If the Adam Lind experiment at first base goes sour, he would likely resort to being a DH on the Jays because Travis Snider will likely occupy left field for years to come. Assuming Lind, who will be 28-years-old next season, returns to form at the plate in 2011, he could re-establish his trade value and possibly net the Jays a package of young, controllable talent in return. He also has a very appealing contract that would make trading him a simple task, if Anderson was knocking on the door to the Majors and forced the Jays’ hand.
It is also unknown as to what the Jays would have to send to Boston in order to acquire Lars Anderson, but the Jays could manage to have both Anderson and Lind on a Major League roster at 1B and DH, respectively. Boston could possibly bend on its’ asking price for Anderson, especially after Gonzalez signs his inevitable extension.
It’s an interesting thought, one that Alex Anthopoulos could definitely consider exploring now or during the 2011 season.