With the starting rotation more in focus after the news Monday night that Roberto Hernandez had made the team, let's turn our attention to the rotation's highest-paid member.
Scott Feldman has been bad this spring - 9 ER, 8 IP, 13 H, 4 BB including the three inning of his start last week. Of course, spring training stats don't mean much. But, I wanted to bring the question up to the group - What happens to Feldman if he struggles this season for the Astros? Do they ride it out? Trade? Cut him? He makes 10 mill this year and 8 the next.
I think it all depends on what our other starters are doing. If Obie & Woj/Appel/Straily/Fausto are performing like 3/4 SP's and they can afford to keep him in the rotation as the "5th" I think they ride it out. I can't imagine he would net anything in a trade. Especially if he's doing poorly.
And it would have to be really really bad for Houston to cut him IMO.
I'd love to craft a long answer, but...it's Spring Training. Feldman surprised everybody with his performance last year, and most expect regression towards his career numbers. But he's not a 5.00 ERA pitcher, and he's certainly not a 7.20 ERA pitcher. Dallas Keuchel had a 6.33 ERA last Spring. Feldman's was 5.40. Foltynewicz' was 1.38. Feldman has pitched 5 innings, and he has a 3.33 FIP (not that it matters, considering the sample size). Nothing to see here. It's Spring Training.
Now, to answer the question that was actually asked...if he struggles this season for the Astros, they try to trade him, and if they can't, they relegate him to "really expensive Brian Moehler" role. They can afford it, and next year he's cheaper and they'll have more roster options. But it really won't happen. He'll post an ERA somewhere between 3.75 and 4.30 and we'll all shrug and move on.
Even if it weren't Spring Training, it's eight innings. Eight. Double it and it still wouldn't be a huge concern. Guys go through peaks and valleys. But to answer the real question, it would depend on the cause; is his BAbip inflated? Is there some mechanical adjustment they can identify and make?
If so, he sticks around. Of course he does. When he's right he's a quality start machine who's salary is going down instead of up. Maybe if the Astros had a bunch of blue chip starting pitching prospects right on the cusp it would be different, but Appel is the only one. White, Wojo, Rodgers...those guys aren't blue chip.
Those guys are the guys you hope will be maybe as good as Feldman already is when he's right. I think he's more likely to be dealt if he's having a good year and maximizing his value; some team that feels they're in it at the deadline but can't afford a huge name guy could look at his remaining $3.3 million this year and just $8 million next year and want to give a nice boost of innings stability to their rotation for a run at a wild card or something.
I agree that the spring performance isn't really a concern; Feldman's spring ERA has been similar to this year in each of his prior two springs. That's the way a lot of veteran pitchers work in the spring. For the hypothetical question, I think that Feldman gets a ton of rope before he is moved to the bullpen or anything.
Feldman is the type of pitch-to-contact sinker pitcher who tends to have up or down streaks based on BABIP variability. Here is his monthly ERA last year: 1.69, 4.71, 5.34, 5.58, 3.32, 1.91. (Admittedly, the results around mid-season were probably affected by working through some arm soreness.)
If the club gave up on him after the two 5+ ERA months, the Astros would have missed out on some good pitching in the subsequent months. So, unless some red flags show up (like an abrupt decline in velocity or other signs of injury), I don't think a period of poor results will cause a drastic decision.
I think the more likely cause of a Feldman trade or bullpen move is if everyone else in the rotation is pitching exceptionally well, and candidates to replace Feldman are also pitching extremely well (whether in AAA or the majors). That would be wonderful situation to face, but I wouldn't count on it.
They wouldn't cut him. They might trade him (though I doubt it would occur) for the same basic set of reasons they might trade almost anybody on the roster: 1) they continue to judge players differently than a fair number of other GMs and 2) trades are often non-zero sum activities. Your deficit is somebody else's surplus. If Luhnow decides that somebody else, say Appel, were ready to step in, and Feldman's best days were behind him, why not unload that salary in exchange for the right player(s)?
Why would another GM want an underperforming, overpaid pitcher? Desperation? Assuming he was about to regress to the norm? That's the part that makes this unlikely.
Ed. note: The previous answers were made last week. I, being the shiftless manager that I am, did not get around to posting them until now. But, my response here comes after the news that the rotation is already set and after Feldman once again struggled.
Scott Feldman's spring is exactly why 1) you don't pay attention to spring statistics for veterans and 2) his contract declined in salary over the three-year period.
Feldman is who he is. He's a fourth starter who brings stability and leadership to the starting staff. But, he's not going to lead a staff with his performance. He'll be lucky to post an ERA under 4.00 this year. He projects to throw around 200 innings with around a 4.20 ERA.
That's pretty good for a $10 million pitcher. With Wojo emerging and Mark Appel on the horizon, though, will Feldman have a job in a year?
Back to my first point, most veterans know how to get through spring training. Last year, Feldman posted a 5.40 ERA in 16 innings. On the plus side, he struck out 14 while walking just two.
This spring, he's gone the other way. He's got a 8.76 ERA with four strikeouts and six walks. That ratio plummeting isn't a great sign, but it's also only 12 innings. If he strikes out four or five in his last spring tuneup, he'd get to nine strikeouts and six walks, closer to what he did a year ago.
It's worth monitoring if you're the Astros, but it's also why they built his contract like they did. If he turns into a long reliever by next year, he'll be overpaid, but not by a lot.