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Transaction of Today…February 24, 2009 – The Atlanta Braves signed Garret Anderson as a free agent.
Was my dislike of Project GAnderson (don’t ask how he got that moniker) ever really rational? No, it wasn’t. In any other offseason, Anderson’s signing would have been a fine low-cost attempt at grabbing lightening in a bottle. But in the trying winter of 2009, Anderson was no consolation prize – he was the final nail in the coffin for Frank Wren’s worst winter at the helm of the Braves.
2008-09 was the offseason of disappointment. Rafael Furcal? Oh, he was totally going to sign with the Braves until cold feet (and more money) changed his mind. The reported trade for Jake Peavy? Didn’t happen. An elderly Ken Griffey Jr. following his father’s footsteps to play in Atlanta? Oh, he said he wanted to come to Atlanta, but ultimately he, too, spurned the Braves. Instead, Atlanta spent too much money on Derek Lowe and Kenshin Kawakami while praying that an outfield of Anderson, Jordan Schafer (or Josh Anderson (or Gregor Blanco)), and Jeff Francoeur would somehow be okay. It wasn’t. It was the winter of our discontent and it never seemed to stop.
By late February, the Braves grew desperate. With Junior bailing, the Braves settled for Anderson. Formerly a two-time Silver Slugger winner, Anderson’s power was a distant thought at this point. From 1994-2003, Anderson carried a respectable .180 ISO, but starting with his age-32 year in 2004, Anderson became a guy completely dependent on hitting for a high average. Over his final five years in Anaheim/Los Angeles, Anderson had a .155 ISO. If you ignore the .194 ISO in ’07, his isolated slugging ranged from .140 to .153. But he hit .290 during this time frame, which hid some of declining skills. In his final year with the only organization he had ever played for, Anderson had a triple slash of .293/.325/.433.
Yet nobody wanted him. The problem with being a left-fielder is teams often expect some element of power from you. When Anderson was popping at least 28 homers, like he did between 2000-03, his value was very high. But at 36 years-old when the 2008 season ended, teams were looking for something a bit more dynamic from their outfield. After all, the prevailing wisdom is that you can find a cheap platoon that could produce as well (if not better) than Anderson had in 2008.
But once Junior signed, the Braves had little recourse because, clearly, they were not going to head into 2009 with Matt Diaz as their everyday guy in left field. Many fans were fine with a possible Brandon Jones/Diaz platoon. Still debatable if Anderson was a real improvement over that.
The sad thing about Anderson’s 2009 was that considering Schafer’s spectacular failure and Francoeur’s complete ineptitude, Anderson became somewhat of a constant. He platooned with Diaz, but humorously hit better against lefties than he did righties. Not Diaz good, but Anderson had a higher OBP and SLG against lefties (and a higher BABIP, but ignore that). Worse than Anderson failing to provide the platoon advantage he was signed for, he sadly made Diaz look better in the field. Considering Diaz had earned the nickname by some fans of Magellan for the creative routes he took in the outfield, having a player who looked even more lost in the outfield was just sad.
How bad was it? Since 2000, only Melky Cabrera played a worse outfield for the Braves according to UZR/150.
Fortunately, like Melky, Anderson lasted just one season. His signing wasn’t a mistake per say, but a seemingly unavoidable result of a depressing series of events. Anderson would head back west and played 80 extra-strength awful games with the Dodgers in 2010. His last at-bat came on August 6. Pinch hitting, he knocked the stuffing out of a Sean Burnett pitch by hitting a swinging bunt. He actually reached first after the catcher nailed a runner at second base for a forceout. The Dodgers designated him for assignment and cut Anderson, whose career was over.
Again, it’s not his fault. He played exactly how a 36-37 year-old should play. But fans aren’t known for being rational so watching him meander around left field while serving softly hit balls the other way was a near-constant reminder of how things had gone all wrong.