Have the Astros completed their search for a 5th starter? I don’t know. But they certainly got closer. The Astros announced this afternoon they’ve signed Nelson Figueroa to a one year, $900,000 contract. Figueroa pitched 67 innings for Houston last season and seems to have shown the Astros coaching staff enough to believe he can round out the team’s rotation going into 2011. In 2010, Figueroa put up a 3.22 ERA after he came to Houston from Philadelphia where he compiled a 3.49 ERA over 19 innings. Prior to filling the role as Philadelphia’s spot starter/stop-gap, Figueroa was with the Mets. Why the Mets didn’t keep a reliable fifth or sixth starter when they barely have a third is anyone’s guess. My guess would be the same reason they signed Oliver Perez and then kept him around so long; they’re insane. But I digress…Nelson Figueroa has shown he can be a major league pitcher and at least good enough to hold down the fifth spot in a decent rotation. Over the past 3 seasons, he’s averaged just under 150 innings (147.1), and put up ERA+s of 93, 100, 120 respectively. Figueroa holds a career ERA of 4.29 and ERA+ of 97. However, that doesn’t mean he comes without question marks. Figueroa will be 37 next season and hasn’t made more than 11 major league starts since 2001.
Figueroa was the second most likely internal candidate for the 5th spot after Felipe Paulino, who was traded to the Rockies last week for shortstop Clint Barmes. Without Paulino, the Astros made sure they held onto the next best option they had. Figueroa doesn’t have the upside power arm Paulino does but could be just as effective if not more so. This was a good, cost-effective deal that as an Astro fan, I’m glad to see. It’s a low risk with the possibility of having a 5th starter for the season performing right around league average for less than a million dollars which is a pretty high return on investment. The Astros still have relatively weak depth with their rotation so I still expect them to add another major league starter. I’m imaging someone in the Rodrigo Lopez neighborhood.