A couple of weeks ago, I wrote up a comparison between Scott Feldman and Brandon McCarthy, noting that the two pitchers were probably more similar than their reputations would lead you to believe. As McCarthy noted in response, both pitchers altered their approaches to lean on the cut fastball while they were teammates in Texas, and the similarities are likely not a coincidence, given the influence that they had on each other.
In the closing of the post, I noted that Feldman “might be one of the best buys on the market.” Well, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he’s headed to the north side of Chicago — the Cubs are making themselves the destination for undervalued starting pitchers.
Last year, they stole Paul Maholm, signing him for just under $6 million for one year and getting a team option for a second season as well, increasing Maholm’s trade value in the event that he proved healthy and had a solid campaign. Two weeks ago, they signed Scott Baker to a one year contract for $5.5 million, and now today, they’ve given Scott Feldman a one year, $6 million deal. It shouldn’t be too hard to spot a trend here. The Cubs have figured out that they can get quality arms for $6ish million without locking themselves into long term commitments or giving up any assets to build out their rotation.
Feldman might not have the reputation of a quality starter yet, but he’s shown the skills necessary to become a perfectly acceptable middle-of-the-rotation innings eater. Last year, he ran a 3/1 K/BB ratio while maintaining an average ground ball rate, putting him in the same xFIP range as guys like Kyle Lohse, Ryan Dempster, Edwin Jackson, and Dan Haren,. He doesn’t have the same track record of success as those guys, but he’s also going to cost a fraction of the price, and offers the same low BB/average K/average GB skillset.
In a more friendly home ballpark and with better results at stranding runners, Feldman projects to be something not too far from a league average starting pitcher in 2013. And, while he’s going to be labeled a stop-gap type of signing, he doesn’t turn 30-years-old until February, so there’s no reason to think that the Cubs can’t extract longer term value from him if he pitches well in 2013. With Feldman and Baker, the Cubs have added a couple of pieces to their rotation who aren’t just pump-and-dump guys, but could be solid pieces to build future rotations around as well. This isn’t just patching a hole because the Cubs need arms for next season – these deals are investments in buying low on pitchers who could be part of the next good Cubs team, even if that team is still several years away.
Feldman isn’t likely to turn into any kind of ace, but he’s a good bet to give the Cubs 180 solid innings of work, and at $6 million with no long term commitment, this is a nifty little move for the Cubs. Don’t be too surprised if they’re announcing another contract with him at some point in 2013, rewarding him for his breakout season and keeping him on the north side beyond just this one season.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.