By Zach Buchanan
Cincinnati Reds right-hander Scott Feldman finds himself in somewhat of a unique position. He’s 34 and spent much of the last 12 years in the major leagues, long enough to collect 183 career starts. Despite that, he’s still trying to convince people he can stick in a rotation.
His latest audition comes with the Cincinnati Reds, who signed him this offseason to a $2.3 million deal with another $2.2 million in incentives. He’ll begin the year as the team’s third starter. How he’ll finish it remains to be seen.
That’s all very familiar for Feldman, who has made at least 29 starts three times in his career but never in consecutive seasons.
The Reds signed Feldman for seemingly contradictory reasons. After trading away righty Dan Straily in the offseason, they needed someone they felt could hold down a starting role. But with a small army of young pitchers on the cusp of the majors, they also needed someone who didn’t necessarily have to stick there.
Feldman checked both of those boxes, along with a few others. He has a career ERA as a starter, including a 3.82 mark over the last four seasons. He’s affordable, and comes with a certain level of predictability.
He’s also a good fit for a small stadium like Great American Ball Park. After spending most of his career in homer-friendly parks with the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros, Feldman has solid groundball tendencies. The sinkerballer has a career groundball rate of 47.4 percent, slightly above the big-league average.
But perhaps the biggest factor was his flexibility. The Reds are counting on his starting experience now with Homer Bailey out until at least June, but they can’t guarantee him anything and he knows that. After all, his agent negotiated a contract that has performance bonuses not only for games started but also relief appearances.
“Some guys say we’d rather have a young prospect in there over a veteran guy and this guy can easily move into the bullpen because he has done it before,” said Reds manager Bryan Price, mentioning Brett Tomko as a comparison. “That might be a detriment to him in a certain degree if his sole goal was to be a starting big leaguer, his flexibility to pitch out of the bullpen.”
Feldman understands the position he’s in. He’s only under contract for 2017, and the team isn’t exactly all-in on major-league success for the upcoming season. Beyond being a stabilizing presence for the rotation, his success will matter less to the team’s return to contention than the success of Cincinnati’s pitching prospects.
Price would like to have things both ways, if he can. The manager wants his young starters to find rotation success – especially the high-priority arms of Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett – but he also wants Feldman to pitch so well it’d be inconceivable to move him to the bullpen.
“I’d really like to win a lot more games this year,” said Price. “Everybody in the building would. I’d like him to have a great year, you know what I mean?
“And if he is pitching so well that we have to patient with a young pitcher, then so be it.”