The Rays have reinstated right-hander Nick Anderson from the 60-day injured list and optioned him to Triple-A Durham, per broadcaster Neil Solondz. To create space on the active roster, fellow righty Phoenix Sanders was designated for assignment.
Anderson, 32, underwent elbow surgery in October 2021, a UCL brace procedure that was expected to keep him out of action until at least the middle of this year. As such, he’s been on the 60-day injured list since Spring Training.
The fact that he’s been optioned to the minors is somewhat surprising, given how excellent he was pitching before the injuries slowed him down. After being acquired from the Marlins in 2019, Anderson threw 21 1/3 innings for Tampa that year with a 2.11 ERA, striking out an incredible 52.6% of batters faced in that time while walking just 2.6%. He added another 5 2/3 innings in the postseason with a 1.59 ERA and 38.1% strikeout rate without issuing a single walk.
In 2020, Anderson landed on the IL for almost two weeks due to forearm inflammation. He was still incredibly effective when on the mound, however, throwing 16 1/3 innings with a 0.55 ERA, 44.8% strikeout rate and 5.2% walk rate. He added another 14 2/3 frames in the postseason, with the Rays going all the way to the World Series, though with diminished effectiveness.
In Spring Training 2021, he suffered a partial tear of his UCL but opted to rehab the issue instead of undergoing Tommy John surgery, on the advice of the Rays’ medical staff and renowned surgeon Dr. Keith Meister. He threw six innings that year before eventually going the surgical route at the end of the season.
He was able to return to the mound on a rehab assignment July 22, beginning in the Florida Complex League before joining the Triple-A Durham Bulls. He’s thrown 9 1/3 innings with a 6.75 ERA in that rehab assignment so far with a 23.1% strikeout rate and 7.1% walk rate. He had a much more palatable 3.86 ERA until his last outing, wherein he entered and faced just three batters, allowing two singles and a home run.
Rehab assignments for pitchers come with a maximum of 30 days, meaning the Rays had to activate him with that timeline expiring. His results during that rehab assignment are obviously a ways off from the form he showed in previous seasons, with that evidently being enough for the Rays to decide on giving him a bit more time to try to round into form. This will potentially have repercussions for Anderson from a service time perspective, as he came into this season with exactly three years in that department, putting him on track to reach the six years necessary for free agency after the 2024 season. Players on the 60-day IL continue to accrue MLB service time, meaning he’s added about 137 days to that total since Opening Day. But since 172 days are required to reach a full year, Anderson will come up short of the four-year mark unless he is quickly recalled and stays with the big league club down the stretch. If that doesn’t happen, it would push his free agency down the road another year. He qualified for arbitration for the first time this year and is earning a salary of $845MM, a bit above the $700K league minimum.
As for Sanders, 27, he’s spent his entire career with the Rays thus far, having been drafted by them in the 10th round in 2017. He was selected to the big league roster for the first time in April. He has split him time between Tampa and Durham this year, with better peripherals than results in the minors but the reverse in the majors. In 30 Triple-A innings, he has a 5.40 ERA with a 27.9% strikeout rate, 1.6% walk rate, .388 batting average on balls in play and 15.8% HR/FB rate. In the majors, he has thrown 14 2/3 innings with a 3.07 ERA, 21.1% strikeout rate, 5.3% walk rate, .286 BABIP and no homers. With the trade deadline having passed, the Rays will have to place him on either outright or release waivers in the coming days. Since he has never previously been outrighted and has less than three years’ service time, he will be unable to reject an outright assignment in the event he clears waivers.