December 6, 2013
Feldman Aims for the Stars
Reportedly agreed to sign RHP Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million contract. [12/6]
Here at BP, when we hear that the Astros are signing someone, we usually start planning a funeral for someone on staff. On Friday, the Astros tried a different approach and instead signed an actual MLB player. Scott Feldman, 31-year-old groundball specialist right-handed starter, heads for Houston where he will make about a third of what the entire MLB payroll was last year for the Astros. I don't know that there's a lot to say about Feldman as a pitcher. He generally posts an xFIP around 3.80, has thrown 180 innings in each of the past few years, and is younger than I am. He has seen his average fastball velocity drop below 90 mph in the past few years, but he was never a guy who relied on strikeouts to begin with. He's not ace material, but that's a nice pitcher to have around on a staff, and the price for one of those on the free agent market has been roughly 9 or 10 million per year for three or four years (cf. Jason Vargas, Jeremy Guthrie). The Astros seem to have bought at market price. Those are the most maddening moves to analyze because there's no one at whom I can scream. Everyone is acting so... sensibly. I guess I'll just have to go pick a fight about Jack Morris.
What's much more interesting is that it's the first sign that the Astros are waking up from their hibernation phase. This is the team that spent the last few years trading away anything that wasn't bolted to the floor (or in the case of Carlos Lee...) and borrowing the old rock 'n' roll cliche that if you're going to suck, suck loudly. When they traded for Dexter Fowler on Tuesday, the cynical among the Twitterati (including our own Sam Miller in his write up of the trade) figured that it might just be a case of the Astros playing speculative arbitrage with Fowler, trading a couple of prospects (Jordan Lyles and Brandon Barnes) for the purposes of flipping him for something even better at the trade deadline. But this is an actual big boy contract on the part of the Astros. You don't sign a contract like this if you plan on completely punting the next few years. The bear is stirring! While Feldman himself does not bring the Astros near a playoff spot in the coming 2014 season, the length of his contract suggests that the Astros plan to have some sort of use for him in the next few years. This contract tells us more about Jeff Luhnow's timetable for when he thinks Houston won't have a problem any more.
In an odd way, this contract could run the exact opposite of the usual narrative for big free agent contract signings. Usually, the team pays up front for present value and laments the albatross of the salary on the back end for a declining player. Feldman's contract is the type that the Astros have spent the last 3 years trading away, a good veteran whose salary just not necessary on a team that's going to finish in last place. And the 'Stros may be a good bet for last place in the AL West again in 2014. In that sense, Feldman's 2014 salary is a waste. But, if the Astros start to see results from their triumvirate of 1-1 picks (Carlos Correa, Mark Appel, and whoever they get this coming June) by 2016, suddenly, Feldman is a nice complementary piece and with the rumored explosion of salaries that is forthcoming, he'll be signed to a contract from the "good old days" where a pitcher like that only got 10 million per year. In addition, even if the Astros don't think that they'll be fully playoff ready in 2016, much has been made of their "need" to show their fanbase (and other free agents whom they wish to lure) a good faith gesture that they are not simply going to cut everything and lose 100 games without trying. If Feldman is really just a bunch of flowers to appease the spouse whose been neglected, it's at least a bunch of flowers that's pretty without being prohibitively expensive and a good value for the money. It might not be the most romantic gesture in the world, but... how to put this nicely... baseball is not the same thing as a marriage. —Russell Carleton
Feldman’s ability to turn himself from a groundball pitcher to a groundball pitcher who gets a few strikeouts is what earned him his contract. It’s also what made him fantasy relevant. He’s not a top tier guy by any means, but he can churn out innings, doesn’t walk many guys and keeps the ball on the ground. Houston was potentially his worst landing spot though, as his (likely) inability to garner wins will cost him fantasy value. He went from being a guy you could sneak into the back end of your rotation to something more like a streaming option. He’ll still be solid thanks to his peripherals and innings, but the dent to his win totals makes him less valuable over the course of a season. —Craig Goldstein
Russell A. Carleton is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @pizzacutter4