So, yesterday, after word hit the newswire that Justin Grimm was going to start next Monday and Scott Feldman was headed back to the bullpen to function in a long-relief capacity, the beat guys descended upon Feldman in the hopes of recording his take on this turn of events, and Feldman was only too happy to oblige with eyeball-drawing material straight from the heart:
“It’s just tough to keep going back and forth. That’s the main thing. Moving back and forth, it’s how you hurt your arm. It’s how you get hurt. I’m not happy. ... Basically, telling me that I’m not in the plans for the second time this year, spring training and then now, that’s fine, if I’m not in their plans. But it doesn’t mean I have to be happy about it.”
The fundamental problem here, of course, isn't that Feldman is unhappy, because it's pretty hard to completely suppress one's emotional state and remain completely and honestly upbeat in the face of a demotion to a substantially less prestigious role. I very much doubt that there are many pitchers out there with any pride in their work that are going to be happy about being shunted from the starting rotation to the bullpen; pulling an example out of the recent past, I doubt Alexi Ogando was happy about being pushed back to the bullpen late last year, given his oft-stated preference for starting games. So, in that sense, I don't begrudge Feldman.
Feldman, however, has taken his unhappiness up a notch and into a dangerous new zone by broadcasting his discontent to the world at large, and that's where this becomes problematic. I doubt it plays too terribly well in the view of the front office or the clubhouse -- especially if you read between the lines a bit and arrive at the conclusion that Feldman is basically saying that the Rangers, by virtue of moving him back and forth between roles, are putting his health at risk. He was always going to be slotted for long relief with the opportunity to spot-start a few games, a plan designed to maximize his value to the team and help the Rangers win as many games as possible. That he's apparently been "unhappy" about this arrangement from the get-go isn't a real great look.
And, of course, there's another odd wrinkle in his vocalized displeasure: he's losing his rotation spot to rookie hurler Justin Grimm for what is basically one start (on June 25th), as Derek Holland is making a push to return by the end of the month. Would he be issuing these same remarks if he had remained in the rotation for one more start before being replaced by Holland, who has a much, much stronger claim to that rotation spot on his own merits than Feldman? Is he really that hacked off about this temporary rotation assignment -- one that he always knew would be temporary, one that would only last until everyone got healthy again -- coming to an end, or is the fact that Grimm is replacing him playing into this? I don't mean to irresponsibly speculate, but it is a pretty strange and pretty uncharacteristic thing for Feldman to say, and I'm grappling for answers here.
There's also the whole thing where he's being paid very well to be the most expensive long reliever in baseball, and is guaranteed a total of $7.1 million between his 2012 base salary and 2013 buyout. Handsomely compensated underachievers * with bad attitudes don't tend to go over well in any market, much less the Dallas/Fort Worth market.
[* Feldman's performance in 2012 is kind of sticky to work through, and is a textbook case as far as illustrating the differences between bWAR and fWAR ... his defense-independent pitching (6.9 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9, 4.08 FIP, 0.6 fWAR) has actually been adequate on the whole, but because he has been hit fairly hard on balls hit into play this year and has had an unusually poor baserunner strand rate, he has a 6.00 ERA, which translates to an -0.9 rWAR. In other words, FanGraphs' defense-independent version of pitcher WAR portrays Feldman as an asset, whereas Baseball Reference's version of pitcher WAR portrays Feldman as a sub-replacement level vortex of suck.
Whether you believe Feldman really has underachieved this year depends on how much value you place on the defense-independent variables, and how much control you think he wields over his BABIP, strand rate, and the like.]
In any event, I expect that Feldman will reassume his old role, regardless of whether he's happy about it or not, and pitch as well as he possibly can, seeing as how he still has to go out and secure a contract after this season is through. That's the logical expectation, since we have no other readily available evidence to suggest otherwise. As is usually the case with stories like this, though, you tend to develop some suspicion as to whether that unhappiness will seep over into the rest of the clubhouse and add toxicity to the environment, which is something that the Rangers, being chemistry-focused as they are, have worked very hard to prevent.
I'd like to think that won't happen here, that Feldman will resist any further urges to pop off his mouth and be a consummate professional about this going forward ... but this is worth keeping an eye on, because if he wants a fresh start elsewhere badly enough, I imagine he knows the right buttons to push in order to force the Rangers' hand on the issue. That probably won't happen, but I've learned to keep an open mind towards the unexpected.