I am a little shocked. Surprised as well.
Yes I am being a little cynical here, but after the last few years of following the Houston Astros, this is what it has come to. I am more excited that Jim Crane spent $30 million in free agency, than with the fact that Jeff Luhnow specifically signed Scott Feldman to be a stabilizing force in the rotation.
And this is no disrespect to Feldman, because overall I think it was a good signing. But to see Crane spend money has to make you feel good about the future of the team. Now, if only we can get this bullpen fixed.
A lot of free agent starting pitchers already came off the board prior to Luhnow adding Feldman. While the terms of the contract might seem to be a little excessive, in fact they fall in line with regards to the market for starting pitchers so far this off-season. On average, pitcher’s similar to Feldman have been receiving between $8 and $11 million a season.
At the higher end of this spectrum, Scott Kazmir who didn’t even pitch in the big leagues (aside from one game) in 2011 and 2012 received a two year contract worth $22 million. Jason Vargas who is inconsistent and has not shown the ability to stay healthy got four years and $32 million. Phil Hughes, who I thought would be a good fit for the Astros, got three years and $24 million from Minnesota and he has not yet been able to make good on his talent and potential.
All things considered, I’m pretty happy with Feldman. This is despite the fact that he also comes with question marks. There are no sure things when it comes to starting pitchers, so that is why the Astros have put an emphasis on developing them.
So let’s take a look at the likely Opening Day starter.
Last season pitching for the Chicago Cubs and Baltimore Orioles, Feldman made 30 starts and had a 12-12 record. Feldman pitched in 181.2 innings, which was the second highest total of his career. The 30-year old had a 3.86 ERA and 1.18 WHIP.
Prior to 2013, Feldman had a few rough seasons where he battled injury, spent some time in the minor leagues, and also shuttled between the rotation and the bullpen. Essentially the right-hander has had two good seasons, 2009 and 2013. In 2009 Feldman had the best year of his young career going 17-8 and recording 4.08 ERA.
Based on that, it is hard to believe that he would warrant $30 million, but in reality it falls right in line with the rest of the pitching market. There are few things that I do like about Feldman.
The main thing the Astros rotation needs is a solid veteran presence who can eat innings. It appears that his health issues are behind him, and Scott can be penciled in for 30 starts and close to 200 innings. Plus, Feldman keeps the ball on the ground (49.6% last season) and walks less than three batters a game.
I’m not sure that you can count on Feldman to repeat his ERA from last season, but I also would not expect it to be much higher than 4.50 in 2014. But what Feldman will be is a solid starter who can pitch deep into the game and give the Astros a chance to win every five days.
What we must caution against, is holding Feldman to a higher standard than is warranted. Yes he is a $10 million a year pitcher, and will also be the Astros ace going into the season. But as an ace, he is a placeholder. And the free agent market dictated his price, as pitching is at a premium.
This season Feldman will be a stabilizer, but in the second and third year’s of his contract, he will be a solid veteran presence in the middle of the rotation. And that is what the Astros need.