Scott Feldman Could Fill Hole for Right Price
After signing a two-year, $22 million contract with the Oakland Athletics, Scott Kazmir is officially off the table. That means that the Indians will need to set their sights on other free agents who can help supplement the Tribe’s starting rotation.
The Indians have a tight budget and aren’t likely to sign a top-tier talent. Instead, they will look for inexpensive ways to compliment the players that they already have. One pitcher who might be a cheap free-agent target for the team is right-hander Scott Feldman.
Feldman, who will be 31 years old next season, was traded to the Baltimore Orioles in July after beginning the season with the Chicago Cubs. He was drafted by the Rangers and pitched parts of eight seasons with them.
The right-hander primarily throws a sinker and a cutter, with a velocity that ranges from the upper eighties to the low nineties. Although his velocity dropped slightly last season, he still has good movement on his pitches. He also has a curveball that he can throw in the mid-seventies.
Feldman has had his share of struggles, including a career ERA of 4.62. Last season was his best season in terms of ERA, with a career-low 3.86. He was inconsistent throughout much of his time with Texas, but improved after signing a one-year, $6 million deal with the Cubs last winter.
The Tribe’s front office doesn’t usually spend extravagant amounts on free-agent pitching. Last winter, they chose to sign Brett Myers rather than pursue a better starter, and it’s hard to envision them doing anything differently this year.
With the deals that pitchers like Jason Vargas and Phil Hughes have been given recently, it would be impossible for the Indians to offer Feldman a contract similar to the one he had last year. Every free-agent starter seems to be overpriced, but that’s just the nature of the market.
Because of those factors, the Indians will probably not be able to afford anyone better than a third or fourth starter. That might actually be a good thing — a starter of a higher caliber would require a long-term contract that would limit the team in the future.
Despite a solid 2013 season, Feldman’s track record of mediocrity in Texas would place him inside the Tribe’s price range. The front office could offer him a two year deal in the range of $16-17 million, with an option for a third year.
It seems like an expensive contract for a mid-rotation arm, but the Indians need to find someone to fill the holes left by Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, and Feldman would be a good fit. He is relatively young, with no history of arm problems since having Tommy John surgery in 2003.
Feldman also has pitched primarily in hitters’ parks throughout his career, and Progressive Field would offer a more pitcher-friendly environment.
He has a career ground ball rate of 47.1 percent. Last year, Justin Masterson led the league with the highest ground ball percentage among qualified starters, while Feldman ranked 14th on that list. Those tendencies have worked well for Masterson, and could work for Feldman as well. Ground ball pitchers come at a discount, compared to the salaries that high-strikeout pitchers can command.
Scott Feldman’s critics often point to his low career strikeout rate as a major flaw, and they have a point – 14.5 percent is well below major-league average. However, during the past three seasons, he has posted a strikeout rate above 17 percent each year. His walk rate has also improved since his early years with the Rangers, and is better than the league average every season.
The Orioles have expressed interest in re-signing Feldman after his performance last season. They traded closer Jim Johnson to the Oakland Athletics on Monday night, freeing up salary money that could be used to accomplish that task.
Other teams are sure to be interested as well. Feldman would make nice addition to almost any rotation, and he would be a very good candidate for the Indians to pursue.