SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: Scott Feldman #39 of the Texas Rangers poses during spring training photo day on February 28, 2012 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Scott Feldman has had an interesting journey since the Rangers opted to convert him from a sidearming reliever back to a non-sidearming starter. In 2008, Feldman wasn't real good, but he took the ball every fifth day, in a season where starting pitchers were going down left and right. In 2009, Feldman lost his job in the starting rotation -- a job he seemingly had locked down going into the spring -- because the Rangers decided they want to give Kris Benson a starting job instead. Feldman was back in the rotation before spring was up, and ended up being the team's best starter, earning the Opening Day nod in 2010.
2010 was awful, as Feldman lost his command, lost his cutter, and ended up with a knee injury that required surgery after the season. 2011 saw Feldman start the year on the disabled list, get put on waivers when he was ready to return so the Rangers could send him to AAA, reject the outright assignment and thus end up back on the 25 man roster in the bullpen, and pitch well in that role. 2012 has seen Feldman pitch well and pitch poorly, spending time in relief and in the rotation, but right now, he's a starter, having beat out Roy Oswalt for a rotation spot.
Feldman is also going to be a free agent after the season, unless the Rangers exercise their $9.25 million team option on him for 2013. For a couple of years now, it has seemed ludicrous to suggest that the Rangers might exercise that option.
Having given it some thought, though, I think that the Rangers' situation, and Feldman's performance, is such that it may make sense for the Rangers to exercise that option and bring Feldman back for 2013.
The Rangers hold a team option on Feldman for 2013 at $9.25 million, with a $600,000 buyout. Since the Rangers are paying him at least $600,000 regardless for 2013, the decision the team has to make is whether it is worth paying $8.65 million to bring him back. Feldman has a 4.63 ERA this season, and even in his best year, 2009, he put up a 4.08 ERA and a 114 ERA+ -- solid, but not spectacular numbers. So why even consider exercising that option and spending that sort of money on a pitcher who, you'd be hoping, is just a League Average Innings Eater?
Well, there's the state of the Ranger rotation. Right now, Texas has a rotation of Feldman, Ryan Dempster, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, and Yu Darvish. Dempster is a free agent after the season, and not likely to be someone the Rangers are going to look to bring back. He and Feldman are only in the rotation because Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz were both knocked out with season-ending injuries, and neither pitcher is going to be ready to start the 2013 season on Opening Day. Regardless, Dempster and Feldman departing would open up two spots in the Rangers' rotation for 2013.
Now, the Rangers have plenty of internal options for the rotation, should they choose that route. Martin Perez and Justin Grimm have started games this season. Robbie Ross came up as a starter, and could move to the rotation. Neil Ramirez has had a rough season in the minors, but could bounce back and be a candidate for 2013. Alexi Ogando or Michael Kirkman could go from the bullpen to the rotation.
But...let's be realistic. The Rangers are going to have expectations of being a playoff team in 2013. They are going to be among the handful of teams who think they can go to the World Series. Matt Harrison has been a revelation this season, but I can't imagine Texas being comfortable with Harrison, Holland and Darvish heading up a rotation with a pair of rookies or mystery candidates behind them, particularly given how Holland and Darvish have disappointed this year.
So, the Rangers could dip their toes in the free agent market. However, much like with the trade market, the Rangers seem unlikely to commit big to anything other than an ace. The Rangers supposedly aren't all that interested in Zack Greinke, the only definite free agent this offseason who could fall in the "ace" category.
More likely, if the Rangers were to go in the free agent market, they'd be looking for a pitcher willing to take a one year deal. Given the young pitchers coming up, and the fact that they are apparently planning on bringing Colby Lewis back, I can't see the Rangers wanting to commit free agent dollars for multiple years for a starting pitcher.
Who are the free agent pitchers this offseason? You can see a list here. It isn't an impressive group. Who would you target on a one year deal? Brandon McCarthy is likely getting multiple years, and even if he isn't, I question whether he's want to return to Texas. Kyle Lohse has had a good enough year he's probably getting a multi-year deal. Joe Blanton? Joe Saunders? Dan Haren could be an interesting option, if the Angels decline their option on him, but again, he seems like a multi-year candidate. Ervin Santana could also have his option declined, but I can't see him as a fit with Texas. Roy Oswalt? I'm sure he'd be as interested in returning to Texas as the Rangers would be in bringing him back -- that is, not at all.
The Rangers could potentially go back out and poke around in the trade market. They've liked Matt Garza for a long time. They've liked Josh Johnson for a long time. But those are pitchers who are going to cost a lot in terms of prospects, at a time where the new rules make it much harder to replenish your prospect stock through being aggressive in the draft or the international market.
So the Rangers are going to need a veteran starter. They're going to want someone they aren't going to be tied to long-term. And they'd probably like someone who has had some success in the American League.
Which brings us back to Scott Feldman. The Rangers know him. They liked him enough to give him a contract extension after 2009. They liked him enough to reject trade offers before this season. When he's right, he's the type of groundball pitcher who is a good fit for TBIA.
$8.6 million for Feldman is a lot of money. Its almost certainly overpaying. But this is not the nickel-and-diming Rangers, the team that John Hart said would be "bottom-feeding" after their surprisingly successful 2004 campaign. This is a team that fancies itself a playoff team, a potential world champion, and it is going to be facing a potential hole in its rotation. This is a team likely looking at a payroll in the $120-130 million range. Is it worth it to let Feldman go, and then hope that you can swing a deal for a starter without giving up too much in the way of prospect, or find some pitcher willing to take a one year deal, in order to hopefully save a million or two?
Maybe it is. Maybe the Rangers have some alternative tricks up their sleeves. But the more I think about it, the more I think that, if Feldman finishes the season strong, it makes more sense to exercise the option, lock him up, and know that you've got him as an option for the rotation than let him go and hope you can get a Blanton or a Jeremy Guthrie for a couple of million less to shore up the rotation.