Orioles Upgrade With Scott Feldman; Cubs Continue Stocking Up

And the trade season is officially here. We have our first significant trade of the year on July 2nd, and the timing of this move is not a coincidence.

First, the details, per Keith Law.

For the record, he meant Steve Clevenger, but he’s a throw-in in this deal, and it’s not like Baltimore is acquiring him to unseat Matt Wieters or anything. This deal is basically Feldman for two pitchers and, in a first for MLB, pool allocation money that will allow the Cubs to be more aggressive in international free agency. We’ll get to that part of the trade in a second. First, let’s start with what the Orioles are getting in Scott Feldman.

Over the winter, Feldman was one of my favorite undervalued free agent options. I wrote a piece comparing him to Brandon McCarthy, which in turn led to McCarthy noting that their similarities were due to his copying of Feldman’s transformation when they were in Texas together. Feldman has gone on to justify the faith that article placed in his skills, and is another recent example of the power of DIPS theory.

While Feldman’s results have made him a nifty trade piece for the Cubs, there’s really nothing different about him now than there was several months ago. His walk rate is hanging around 7% as always, his strikeout rate remains at around 18%, and he’s getting his normal share of ground balls. This is who Scott Feldman is, and has been for quite a while. Last year, though, his .318 BABIP led to a 5.09 ERA, while this year’s .255 BABIP has led to a 3.46 ERA.

You know the drill at this point; Feldman is better than his ERA suggested last year and not as good as his ERA suggests this year. Ignoring the year to year fluctuations in results show the new-and-improved Feldman to be roughly a league average starting pitcher. Since 2011, when he returned with the cut fastball as a new weapon and changed his approach to pitching, Feldman has thrown 247 innings and posted a 103/92/96 (ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-) line. Opposing hitters have posted a .304 wOBA against Feldman during that stretch.

While he’s never going to be mistaken for a front of the rotation ace, Feldman is a quality innings eater, the kind of guy that stabilizes a rotation and keeps contenders from disaster starts. He’s a +2 to +3 win pitcher over a full season, and since the Orioles have had to rely on replacement level arms in their rotation, they’ll get the full value of this upgrade, though getting him for half a season means that the upgrade is worth more in the range of +1 to +1.5 wins.

Those wins could be extremely valuable for the Orioles, however. The AL playoff race is a total dog fight, and that win could make a huge difference. Right now, our forecasted final standings have the Orioles finishing 87-75, one game ahead of the Rays in the race for the second wild card. These forecasts will certainly change as contenders load up over the next month, and the Orioles absolutely had to try to improve their roster to make a real run at a spot in October. Feldman is a significant upgrade over their internal rotation options, and even though he’s not going to be seen as a difference maker, the marginal value of the win he adds could easily be the difference between a playoff berth and sitting at home.

And that’s why the Cubs were able to extract a pretty nice package in return for a guy who was in moderate demand as a free agent over the winter. Jake Arrieta is the main part of this deal for the Cubs, as they’re basically repeating the bet they made with Feldman, just with a younger cost controlled arm this time. Arrieta’s career 5.46 ERA is pretty ugly, but his xFIP is a much more palatable 4.45, and his future projects to be better than his past.

That said, Arrieta is 27-years-old and his Triple-A numbers aren’t anything amazing, so while he was labeled a top prospect a few years back, there’s probably not quite as much upside here as you might think. He’s got a 94 mph fastball but a history of not really knowing how to command it particularly well, and he’s never missed as many bats as you might expect from a guy with his stuff. I wouldn’t be too shocked if he ended up in relief with the Cubs, though I’d imagine they’ll give him another chance to stick as a starter before making the conversion.

If Arrieta can make some improvements, there’s a chance he could turn into a quality rotation depth piece, and his service time means that he’ll be under team control for another three seasons after this one. He’s the kind of lottery ticket arm that rebuilding teams should be giving chances to, and he’d be a nice return for a rent-a-veteran just by himself. But, the Cubs didn’t just get Arrieta; they also got the ability to buy some better prospects for the future.

That’s why this deal was made on July 2nd. Today is the first day of the international signing period, where teams can officially sign the 16-year-old amateurs they’ve been scouting around the world for the last year. The most recent CBA implemented a new structure for these signings, however, giving teams varying amounts of pool allocations to sign players based on their prior season win-loss record. Basically, it’s a draft system just without the draft part, so players are free to sign with whichever team they choose, but the pool allocations serve to give losing teams more money to play with than winning teams.

In this deal, the Orioles sent two of their bonus pool allocations — three and four, to be exact — that combine to be worth $388,100, or about 20% of their total bonus pool. According to the fantastic work from Ben Badler at Baseball America, the Cubs have now raised their bonus pool from $4,557,200 to $4,945,300, giving them the largest spending pool of any team, barring future trades that move more money around. Badler forecasted both of the top two international prospects — Dominican OF Eloy Jimenez and Venezuelan SS Gleybor Torres — to sign with the Cubs, but he noted that they would need to trade for additional pool space in order to make it happen.

Well, the Cubs have done exactly that, and there is already a report out this morning that Torres has agreed to sign with the Cubs. Jimenez’s signing should follow in the not too distant future now that Chicago has enough money to sign both of their prize targets.

So, yes, the Cubs traded Scott Feldman for Jake Arrieta, but that was likely not the primary motivation for this deal from Chicago’s perspective. The value of the pool allocation should not be undersold as part of the trade, even though it will take third billing to Arrieta and Pedro Strop. I’m sure the Cubs are happy to have both of those arms in their organization, but this was a trade about the long term future in Chicago, and securing premium international talent in the process.

The Orioles needed a guy like Feldman, and they may very well not have been able to put that international pool money to the same use, so this trade makes sense for a team in win-now mode that didn’t have the space to pursue the top guys. Arrieta and Strop might end up performing well in Chicago, but the Orioles needed to upgrade, and they didn’t part with pieces that can’t be replaced. This is a smart upgrade for Dan Duquette, even if it won’t draw big headlines the way some other names would, and Feldman is a good fit for their team.

The Cubs, though, have to be thrilled with how this worked out. For the $3 million of Feldman’s 2013 salary that they ended up paying out, they got a half season of quality pitching, then turned that into an interesting young pitching prospect and nearly $400,000 in cash that they can use to sign a premium 16-year-old that could turn into a future franchise player. They bought a couple of lottery tickets who may never pan out, but turning a mid-level free agent into this kind of upside in just a few months time is how good organizations get rebuilt. Theo Epstein, Jed Hoyer, and the rest of their front office are doing things the right way.

Update: The Cubs also just traded prospect Ronald Torreyes to the Astros for two of their bonus slots, raising their overall pool even more, and decreasing Houston’s at the same time. The Cubs now have far and away more money to spend than anyone else, and it seems pretty clear that Badler was correct when he noted that they were going to come away with the top prizes of this class.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


52 Responses to “Orioles Upgrade With Scott Feldman; Cubs Continue Stocking Up”

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  1. ALEastbound says:

    Could be a stealthy move for both.

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  2. Charlie says:

    Nailed it. Well done.

    I wouldn’t be overly surprised to see Arrieta end up in San Diego in a Garza package, as San Diego has shown some interest in Arrieta over the last week.

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  3. NatsFan73 says:

    Cubs also just sent Marmol and $210K of Intl. Cap cash to the Island of Misfit Contracts, for Matt Guerrier.

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    • NatsFan73 says:

      …and sold 2B prospect Ronald Torreyes to Houston for another $800K of Intl. cap space.

      $388K – $210K + $800K = $970K of extra signing room on the North Side.

      …so far.

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      • JD says:

        The Sean Marshall trade is looking better and better. The Cubs got Torreyes as part of that deal (with Travis Wood and Dave Sappelt) and they just turned him into enough cash to sign a top international prospect. Theo and Jed are figuring out how to game the new system already.

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        • Charlie says:

          Trading current assets for IFA’s is meh.

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        • Casadilla says:

          With you there Charlie

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        • BT says:

          Doesn’t the IFA immediately become an “asset”, and in all likelihood, an asset instantly more valuable than the one traded away? I don’t see how that could possibly be a “meh” thing.

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    • Charlie says:

      BT, you are using the term “asset” loosely. This will be Torreyes’ third full year in professional baseball with moderate stages of success. Although he isn’t the overwhelming talent, he is what many of these IFA’s hope to become. Essentially the Astro’s took advantage of the Cubs yearning for slot money by taking a progressed prospect instead of using that money on 16-17 year olds. Great move by Houston.

      As far as the Cubs are concerned, this slot money is supposedly necessary to sign Eloy Jimenez; and that I can budge over my view on IFA’s slightly. It’s just a pet-peeve of mine when some are advocating trading current, progressed minor leaguers for raw IFAs who still have loads of paperwork to file before coming over to the US.

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      • fan favorite says:

        The point being is that the cash was a throw in to an already good trade package in turn sweetening the deal and helping the Cubs land potential talent that they otherwise may not have if not for the succession of trades. Sean Marshall/Scott Feldmann.

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  4. KS says:

    Typical Dan Duquette value move. Good trade that won’t excite a lot of casual fans, but makes sense and improves the team for this season, at least. I feel a little better about the O’s chances this year, and I felt pretty good about them before today.

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  5. Mike G says:

    The fact that once I read this article, I immediately text’d my Oriole loving friend to laugh at him says all you need to know. It’s freaking Scott Feldman. He’s never been more than a 4/5th starter, so I doubt he’ll be able to slow down the Red Sox offense.

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    • Evan says:

      It’s not like the Orioles gave up Bundy to get him. Strop was constantly on the verge of a DFA and was no longer permitted to pitch in games that were still competitive, and Arrieta is a 27-year-old with, I think, one option remaining, who seems to be falling apart, and whose career WAR–over about 60-70 starts–is roughly the same as Feldman’s 2012 WAR.

      The bonus pool money is valuable to the Cubs but seems unlikely to be missed by the Orioles.

      And, of course, as the author notes, Feldman has a better chance of keeping the Red Sox offense in check than anything else the Orioles have been throwing out there as the #5 starter.

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    • Zac says:

      The O’s are 5-2 against the Red Sox so far this year, despite being “unable to slow down the Red Sox offense”

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    • RawHam says:

      Not every trade has to be a world beater. Feldman is definitely useful for the Orioles, more so than hoping Strop and Arrieta put it together. The fact that you texted your friend to laugh only tells me you don’t understand the value of lower level trades.

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    • Luis Matos says:

      This post embodies the New England sports fan more than any other I think I’ve ever read.

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    • Mel says:

      The past tense of “text” is “texted.”

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    • jrogers says:

      Seems like you could’ve made that conclusion before reading the article.

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    • Oh, Beepy says:

      How did you find this place?

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  6. Wobatus says:

    Ya think he was thinking of Tony Cloninger? Won 24 games for the 1965 Braves but most famous as the first National Leaguer to hit 2 grand slams in the same game and still the only pitcher.

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  7. marlins12 says:

    No mention of Pedro Strop at all?

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    • Jamie says:

      Not much to mention. The Orioles clear a roster spot, the Cubs throw another arm at the bullpen to see if it sticks.

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    • Dave S says:

      Well, FanGraphs hates relief pitchers, so it’s not surprising.

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  8. Steve says:

    Probably not all that relevant, but do the Cubs actually get the cash, or just the right to spend that extra amount?

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    • RawHam says:

      I think its just right to spend, but I could be wrong.

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      • NatsFan73 says:

        It’s just cap space. Actually having money to spend is not really any MLB club’s problem, no matter what they may claim.

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  9. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Looking good for O-Town: Wei-Yin Chen’s return and the addition of Feldman will help give their rotation some “good but not great” quality to it. I wish they’d be able to get one last pitcher, though (If they could get Lee as an ace, well…)

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  10. Mike Green says:

    A little more detail is in order. Feldman was absolutely killed in the rotation in 2012 and pitched well in relief. Overall, he had a line drive of over 25% in 2012, and so it shouldn’t really be surprising that his BABIP was .318. This year, he has started and pitched pretty well, with a LD rate of 16% and everything else in accordance with career norms. My guess is that pitching in the AL East, he’ll be lucky to have an LD rate no worse than his career 20%. His career ERA/FIP/xFIP is around 4.5 and that seems to me to be a reasonable expectation for him. That’s still more than a run/game better than Freddy Garcia.

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    • Josh M says:

      Feldman isnt anything to get excited about but this deal reminds me a lot of the O’s deal to get Joe Saunders last year and Saunders worked out pretty well for the O’s.

      Also, as an O’s fan, I am extremely happy to be rid of Pedro Strop, that guy was a disaster.

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      • shibboleth says:

        Good comp with Saunders! This is a “help to win now” trade that doesn’t bankrupt the future. Key word help… no big win guaranteed or expected.

        I like the restraint, personally. Don’t you get the impression that Duquette and company are playing safe until ’14 or ’15 to make a truly big free agent and/or trade splash.

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  11. J says:

    Doesn’t this kind of make the Orioles look stupid for not just signing Feldman when he was a free agent?

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    • Ruki Motomiya says:

      Not necessarily. Feldman has had a bit of a rocky career as a starter. Waiting to see how good he does could be seen as a good move.

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      • Ivan Grushenko says:

        How so? If he’s awesome in the first half, then the price to get him goes up and he’s still Scott Feldman. They’re taking a bet that he’d suck in the first half and then miraculously improve after trading for him. That isn’t what happened.

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  12. Inspector Gadget says:

    They could have re-signed Saunders as well. But even though their starting pitching has been a wreck this year, it was actually a strength last year. Chen’s injury and Hammel and Arrieta’s incompetence created the need this year; it didn’t exist in the offseason.

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  13. Paul says:

    Wow, I was a big fan of the new CBA, but had no idea they could trade bonus pool slots. I wonder why they can do it in the international signing period but not in the Rule 4 draft? I recall that the competitive balance picks can be traded, since that was part of the Anibal Sanchez deal last year. I’m guessing those picks for 2014 are going to be announced soon. Cubs could be starting a trend here, a welcome one as far as I’m concerned.

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  14. Sarge6 says:

    Cubs also signed signed Dominican righthander Jefferson Mejia for $850,000 today (h/t baseball america), which probably had something to do with the team simultaneously scarfing up as much international cap $$$ as it could.

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  15. TheTheory says:

    Gotta be like Christmas in July for Feldman.

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  16. rubesandbabes says:

    Okay, this trading of the Bonus $ for international guys is fun, but it won’t last. Kudos to the Cubs for playing along. Lots of fungible stuff in the new CBA and owners are posting victory after victory without a Stephen Strasburg contract in sight.

    To me, Strop is equal to Arrieta. At some point the future starter with a $40 mil projection in imaginary savings that never works out slides along down the scale to what the sabr community / Fangraphs considers a worthless reliever. Probably both guys will get saves for the Cubs in the next 12 months…

    Yes, that whole thing where a reliever basically has to be at the PED level to point in WAR, and it is so “because relievers are easily acquired, and therefore not above replacement, and also therefore not valuable” But take a look around at what the contenders need, and what they can’t get – relievers.

    It is true that the market will not allow for a trade of a young pitcher (Arizona might), and that is governing the market, but now the market is hot for relievers, at a price, because that is what’s possible to get, even in an era where everyone has a 2.5 ERA.

    The last hour of the game, the WAR stat goes into hiding, hoping no one notices..

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    • Charlie says:

      Rubes, I think its common knowledge that the SABR community doesn’t use WAR with relievers in the same context as it would when evaluating an OFer. It’s similar to the SABR community not using UZR when evaluating catchers.

      That being said, overwhelming returns for relievers don’t usually happen. They simply aren’t as highly valued as a player who plays more. That simple. The best bullpens are a result of too much good pitching in a system. SO, the more saturated a system is with pitchers, the more likely a valuable relief pitcher is produced.

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  17. SVAZCUB says:

    Are you sure he didn’t mean Tony Cloninger?

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  18. SleepNowInTheFire says:

    So Strop will close once Gregg is traded? Funny thing is that I’m only half joking…

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    • HOFers4eva says:

      Strop will likely set up for Blake Parker, and be a poor man’s Carlos Marmol of old while doing so.

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  19. Jay29 says:

    What would be the trade value of the top 16-year-old international talent in an average year? To put it another way, how much could a contender expect to get on July 2 by trading all of its IFA pool money?

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    • jdbolick says:
      FanGraphs Supporting Member

      Probably not that much. IFA is more about filling out your minor league system with bodies than adding high-impact prospects. In the same way that college players are viewed as safer projections than high school players, high school players would be safer projections than 16 year olds.

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  20. NATS Fan says:

    I am frequently amazed how often some fangraphs readers underestimate average quality major leaguers like Feldman. No team has ever won the WS with just stars (not even the yankees). They’re not enough stars to go around. Average players are necessary to plug the holes between the stars and Feldman is just such a guy. A good trade for the orioles to ditch below replacement talent and plug their pitching hole.

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  21. j paulin says:

    1-1/2 years later…this trade looks pretty good for the cubs

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