'No excuses': Anderson ready to rebound for Marlins

February 24th, 2024

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Marlins have turned to a potential bounceback candidate with plenty to prove to be their Opening Day shortstop.

Veteran agreed to a Major League contract for 2024 on Saturday. Terms of the deal were not announced, but it's for one year and $5 million, according to multiple reports. Miami transferred ace Sandy Alcantara (Tommy John surgery rehab) to the 60-day injured list as the corresponding roster move.

"I think everybody knows what I'm up against this year," said Anderson, who took swings in the cage before sitting in the dugout for Miami's Grapefruit League opener against St. Louis. "I'm just going to go out and try to get back to myself. If I get back to myself, then sky's the limit. Just continue to keep playing and try to be great."

The 30-year-old Anderson, who was one of the faces of the White Sox franchise in recent years, became a free agent once the club declined his $14 million option for 2024. He has not played more than 123 games in any season since '19 due to injuries, including a nagging left knee sprain that contributed heavily to his '23 struggles. Anderson hit just one home run and turned in a .582 OPS, the lowest among all qualified hitters.

His sprint speed, which has been well above average for the bulk of his eight-year career, fell to the 46th percentile (from 2019-22, it ranked between the 78th and 92nd). The organization believes working with the hitting staff can help Anderson at the plate, just as it did for Marlins third baseman and former White Sox teammate Jake Burger when he arrived at the Trade Deadline last season.

"[The injury] took a toll," Anderson said. "You're talking about the front side of an MCL sprain. I had nothing to hit up against. It led to a lot of ground balls. No excuses. I kept working. I feel good today. I feel healthy, and I'm ready to go, and I'm excited."

Shortstop had been an offseason area of need for Miami, whose group ranked last in the Majors with a .578 OPS in 2023. The Marlins hadn't addressed the position until now, previously intending on having utility player Jon Berti receive the bulk of the reps there in ’24. The only natural shortstop on the 40-man roster is No. 5 prospect Jacob Amaya.

"We knew that we were looking for shortstops, that we felt honestly pretty good about the shortstop options that we had in house, but it was still something that we were going to try to look to upgrade," said president of baseball operations Peter Bendix. "And so there's a lot of different conversations that happen -- free-agent conversations, trade conversations. A lot of those conversations happen. Nothing led to an actual deal until this point, but sometimes patience pays off."

Miami is hoping Anderson can regain even a fraction of his old form and solidify the middle of the infield. He was the only player in the Majors to bat .300 or better in each season from 2019-22, a stretch that included a batting title in ‘19, a Silver Slugger and some AL MVP votes in ‘20, and an All-Star selection in each of the next two years. His 122 OPS+ during that four-year period ranked seventh among primary shortstops with at least 1,000 plate appearances, and Anderson complemented that offense with above-average defense.

A first-round Draft pick by the White Sox in 2013, Anderson produced double-digit homers and steals from ’17-21 (excluding the shortened 2020 season), peaking in ‘18 with 20 and 26, respectively, career highs in each category.

"I'm really excited," Burger said. "He was a great teammate to me and great friend. He obviously didn't have the year he wanted to last year, but I think a change of scenery and getting around a good culture that Skip's built here will be huge."

Leading up to his signing, Anderson connected with Burger as well as Nick Gordon and Jazz Chisholm Jr. When Burger was dealt to Miami, Anderson kept tabs from afar. He's excited to get to work and join manager Skip Schumaker's club.

The signing also sends a message that the Marlins want to build off of 2023's surprising postseason appearance.

"I think when you have an All-Star, Silver Slugger, batting champ walk into that clubhouse, it changes things, and I think it fills up the clubhouse in a positive way," Schumaker said. "It's a boost. They know the front office is in it to win, and it's not anything other than that when you see someone walk in like that. He's motivated, he's ready to roll. Again, I've said it before, anybody that's motivated is dangerous at this level, and I'm not sure there's many guys more motivated."