Area of Need: 4th/5th Starter
Status: Free Agent
Availability: 2 years/$16 m – 3 years/$27 m
It would be easy to compare 2013 Scott Feldman to 2012 Joe Saunders. Both starting pitchers were acquired during the season by the Orioles and both performed reasonably well. We headed into the 2012 offseason with a feeling that Saunders would remain an Oriole. As this winter gets underway, we are already hearing whispers that both Feldman and the Orioles are interested in continuing their relationship. It turned out that the Orioles never made a real run at Saunders and he ended up elsewhere. Will history repeat itself this off-season with Scott Feldman?
I would say ‘no’ in the sense that I do believe the Orioles have actual interest in hanging onto Feldman whereas they were never truly interested in retaining Saunders last year. That does not necessarily mean that the Orioles will re-sign Feldman as a free agent, however, but I do like the odds.
Early indications are that Feldman will seek a three year deal, which is not surprising. He will play all of next season at age 31 and would clearly like to get a longer term deal before he hits his mid-30’s. Some are calling this a weak FA class for starting pitchers, but then again we tend to hear that every season. I am not altogether convinced that Feldman will get three years – “weak” market or not – and that a two-year deal in the range of $16 - $18 million is far more likely where he will land. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Feldman will receive a 2 year/$17 million deal when all is said and done.
So the question then becomes, would the Orioles have interest in Feldman at 2 years/$17 m? I think so.
Scott Feldman is not the top-half-rotation starter that the Orioles would ideally like and could definitely use. However, the Orioles do not necessarily have the luxury of turning down a pretty girl while waiting on the prom queen to ask for a dance. They need to upgrade the starting rotation over what they entered last season with and re-signing Scott Feldman on a 2-year deal counts as an upgrade. The Orioles had the 27th best starter’s ERA in MLB in 2013. The difference between 27th best in baseball and an average American League rotation is likely the difference between 3 months of using Jake Arrieta & Freddy Garcia as your fifth starter as opposed to a full season of Scott Feldman in that role. The O’s can make incremental gains in the starting pitching department by tightening up the back-end. I believe Scott Feldman can play a role in that.
Feldman’s numbers have jumped around a bit during his career but they have really settled into a pattern the past several seasons. Since 2011, Feldman has been a pitcher that strikes out roughly 17% of the batters he faces, has a 7% walk rate, induces a ground ball for every fly ball, and holds an MLB average extra-base hit rate. All of those rates – with the exception of the walk rate which has remained somewhat steady – are significantly down from Scott’s numbers early in his career. Remember, he pitched almost entirely out of the bullpen in the minor leagues. Add in that tall pitchers usually take longer to get consistency with their mechanics and you begin to see that Feldman might just be a late bloomer. In that case, his recent numbers might be more indicative of his near-future performance than his career totals.
I think that unless Scott is able to find a three year pact elsewhere, there is a good chance that he is back in the Orioles rotation for 2014 where he has the chance to shore up the backend of a rotation that has been the O’s Achilles heel these past two seasons.
Outlook: Likely – Both parties want it to happen and unless Feldman gets a deal elsewhere that he can’t pass up, there is a good chance he returns for 2014.