With GM meetings underway in Arizona, it was reported (and verified) yesterday that the Cardinals had signed left-handed hitting middle infielder Dean Anna to a major league contract, subsequently adding him to the 40-man roster in the process. On the surface, as CardinalsFarm stated on Twitter, this signing could be nothing more than adding much-needed middle-infield depth in the high minors (namely Triple-A Memphis). However, upon further review, there is a legitimate chance the soon-to-be 28-year-old breaks camp on the 25-man roster as the primary back-up to Jhonny Peralta with the capability of filling in at a handful of other positions as well.
Most importantly (in my opinion, at least), Anna has one component of his game that Daniel Descalso has yet to exhibit in his five-year MLB career—the ability to be an average to slightly-above-average defensive shortstop. Descalso played 98.1 innings at shortstop last season, and I will be honest, I was borderline petrified each time a ball was hit to him. Well, after reading numerous scouting reports scattered across the internet and seeing YouTube clips such as this one, this doesn't appear to be the case with Anna. The overarching conclusion on Anna's shortstop defense is that he won't necessarily "wow" you, but he will "get the job done."
As discussed in this Hardball Times article, Anna has essentially split time between shortstop and second base for the majority of his minor league career. However, "he’s also put in time at third base, the outfield corners, and first base. He’s even tried on catcher’s gear, although he has yet to get into a game behind the plate." With game experience at seven positions on the diamond (yes, I am including pitcher) and the supposed ability to be the team's double-secret emergency catcher, Anna seems like an ideal utility guy to have available off the bench.
What about his hitting, though? In 25 big-league plate appearances with the Yankees last season, he slashed .138/.200/.318 with a 38 wRC+. Please forget everything I stated in that last sentence. A sample of twenty-five plate is nowhere near an adequate amount to make an educated judgment on a player's hitting ability. Yet, in 823 Triple-A plate appearances, Anna slashed .296/.385/.432 while recording four more walks (94) than strikeouts (90). Prior to the season, ZiPS projected Anna to slash .240/.321/.356 with a wOBA of .300 in 513 plate appearances. This is very slightly better than Descalso's career slash of .243/.313/.341 (.288 wOBA). In terms of next year, Carson Cistulli wrote that Anna has been "the best signing of the offseason (so far) by the projections" as Steamer projects him to be worth 1.9 WAR over 600 PAs—quite a value for a bench player (~150 PAs) likely receiving the league minimum of $500,000.
Plus, in 2013, while in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League with the Padres' Triple-A affiliate (Tucson), Anna was named the PCL hitter of the year. In 582 PAs, he slashed .331/.410(!)/.482 with a wRC+ of 140. Also impressive, his BB% (10.5%) and K% (11.2%) were nearly identical. Now, his line was clearly inflated by a .361 BABIP in a hitter-friendly league, but it is a still recent flash of his potential which should be seen as nothing but a positive. So, does this translate to big league hitting success? Probably not, but it doesn't have to. His role with the club will be, at maximum, a utility guy who will fill in as a starter when the regulars need some rest and will bring his good contact rates to the plate in a pinch-hitting role.
The very last line of Anna's imaginary resume is what puts him over the top as a potential Descalso replacement going forward: "Dean Anna: The Blow-out, Save-Your-Bullpen Pitcher." Brad Johnson already covered Anna's one big league outing in depth over at Fangraphs with Scouting Dean Anna as a Pitcher, and I invite you to check it out. As shown on his BrooksBaseball pitcher card, Anna threw 17 fourseam "fastballs" in his one-inning outing. His average velocity was 62.72 MPH, and his pitches averaged -6.87 inches of dragless horizontal movement. Sure, opposing hitters recorded a .500 batting average and a .667 slugging percentage against the pitch, but he managed to get three outs, and that's really all that matters.
In reality, could Descalso and Anna coexist on the 25-man roster? Probably so, especially considering this was the case with Descalso and Mark Ellis this past season. However, it is probably in the team's best interest to acquire (or promote Xavier Scruggs) a more powerful bat to platoon with Matt Adams at first base. What are your thoughts on the acquisition of Dean Anna?