By Alex Hooper | 92.3 The Fan

CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – With the near-standstill in the free agent market, every team could still get much better by first pitch on Opening Day.

The Cleveland Indians are certainly one of those teams, especially as pundits have begun to push the idea of the defending American League Central champs either trading for Manny Machado or signing J.D. Martinez. Either move would obviously make them just that.

For now, the Indians have the same needs they have had since inking Yonder Alonso to a deal on December 21st, mostly a relief pitcher to take some of the innings left behind from Bryan Shaw’s departure.

External options remain, with prices assumed to be coming down as the market stalls. Internal options remain with players like Ryan Merritt out of options, and the fallout from the Salazar/Clevinger/Tomlin derby in the spring.

One name that has not been thrown around a whole lot is an arm on the mend in 27-year-old Cody Anderson.

The 6-foot-4 righty missed all of 2017 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and was already in Goodyear before pitchers and catchers report officially on Valentine’s Day.

Anderson made nine of his final ten appearances out of the bullpen in 2016 before spraining his UCL and eventually electing to go under the knife. He accrued 18 2/3 innings as a reliever that season, allowing 9 earned runs on 3 home runs.

In his rookie year of 2015, Anderson looked very solid as a starter, going 7-3 in 15 starts and posting a 3.05 ERA in 91 1/3 innings. The former 14th-round pick also posted a fine GB% of 45.9%, which dipped slightly in 2016 to 39.8%.

Anderson profiles well as a reliever, carrying a mid-90s fastball, a low-90s cutter, a curveball and a plus-changeup.

Because of the recent line of thinking that throwing too hard, too often causes arm issues as opposed to throwing breaking pitches, the Indians may be better off placing Anderson in the pen and limiting the amount of pitches he throws, while utilizing his velocity and filling a need.

Utilizing that velocity by moving him largely to a relief role saw a jump in average speed on Anderson’s fastball from 93.2 mph in 2015 to 95.2 in 2016. Similar increases were seen in his cutter (90.0 to 92.1), curve (80.6 to 82.2) and change (84.6 to 86.8).

Unsurprisingly, the increase in velocity was accompanied by a rise in K%, from 12.1% in 2015 to 20.0% in 2016, a 24.4% rate in his time as a reliever. Sustaining that K% and pairing it with an near-elite 5.8 BB% could bring boatloads of success for the righty, especially if Anderson retains his jump in whiff rate from 7.8% to 12.2%.

Of course, the Indians’ approach to his injury and how Anderson bounces back from it will be largely determinant of replicating those numbers.

If he can even reach those velocities will be seen, granted the team even wants to push it. If they do not, perhaps they decide to use him as a starter who sits at or near those lower velocities.

There is a good chance Anderson begins the year at Triple-A Columbus, as he has one option remaining and will need time to get back up to snuff. If it is decided he should return as a starter, there would be no room for him at the big-league level to begin with.

Anderson’s time in the big leagues was by no means seamless, as his hard contact rate sits at 29.5% for his career with just 19.5% of batted balls hit softly. His 33.8% FB rate would have placed him top-30 among qualifiers for 2017, a year where an increased number of players looked to put the ball in the air. Those two numbers do not pair well.

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