After years of complaints from talking heads over their unwillingness to spend, the Houston Astros are making a free agent splash, signing starter Scott Feldman to a three-year, $30 million deal.
It's the first significant free agent signing in awhile for the Astros, who opened last season with a total payroll of $26 million. Bud Norris was the highest-paid player on the Opening Day roster at $3 million, and he was traded away mid-season. The last time the Astros spent even half as much on a player as they are on Feldman, they signed reliever Brandon Lyon to a three-year, $15 million deal prior to the 2010 season. The last time they spent $10 million or more per year on a free agent, they signed Carlos Lee to that fateful six-year, $100 million deal prior to the 2007 season.
Feldman posted an ERA of 3.86 in 181.2 innings for the Cubs and Orioles in 2013. He was a popular under-the-radar target for teams that were looking for starting pitching but didn't want to overpay Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana. While $10 million a year and $30 million guaranteed may seem like a lot for a guy who had an ERA north of 5 two seasons ago, as a two-win player, that's just about where Feldman should be paid in the dollars-per-WAR sense. It looks like Houston's stat-conscious front office agrees, and now he's back in a division he knows well.
Feldman joins a rotation that currently includes the likes of Lucas Harrell and Jarred Cosart, but could include Mark Appel and (likely) Carlos Rodon in the next couple years. Feldman effectively replaces Jordan Lyles, who was traded to Colorado in the Dexter Fowler deal. And the Astros may not be done, either, as they still have to find a replacement for Erik Bedard. At the very least, Feldman looks like the kind of veteran starting pitcher you bring in to show your younger prospects with higher ceilings how to deal with the grind of a Major League season. It doesn't hurt that he's a solid pitcher, either.
Between signing Feldman and trading for Fowler, the Astros have had a pretty solid week, and should silence some of the critics accusing them of tanking. Odds are the Astros' payroll won't be very large in 2014, either — Feldman joins Fowler and Jose Altuve as the only players officially on the books for next year at the moment — but they're at least adding pieces that could help them get closer to competing in what's becoming a hyper-competitive AL West in the next couple years. Once the prospects start hitting the majors, the Astros could end up being a very fun team to watch