With the deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players looming, Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Astros will “surely attempt to trade” right-hander Mike Fiers between now and that 8pm ET deadline on Friday.
MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected the 32-year-old Fiers to take home a $5.7MM salary in what would be his second trip through the arbitration process. Any club that acquired Fiers would be picking up his rights not only for the 2018 campaign but also for the 2019 season, as he’ll be arbitration-eligible once more next offseason. Of course, the fact that Fiers is already a non-tender candidate speaks to the fact that he’s coming off a down season, and he’d need to enhance his stock with a solid 2018 performance for those 2019 rights to even come into play.
Fiers served as a useful rotation piece for the Astros and Brewers in 2015-16, working to a combined 4.07 ERA with 8.1 K/9 against 2.7 BB/9 with a roughly 40 percent ground-ball rate in 349 innings. The righty traded some of his 2015 strikeouts for improved walk and ground-ball tendencies in 2016 and experienced generally useful results in both years. The 2017 campaign saw the return of Fiers’ ability to miss bats (8.6 K/9) but also some control issues (3.6 BB/9) — this time paired with a best-yet 42.9 percent grounder rate.
Home runs have long been an issue for Fiers, a righty who works with a four-seamer that averages just under 90 mph, but that issue was more pronounced than ever in 2017, as Fiers yielded an average 1.88 HR/9 in this past season’s 153 1/3 innings. The resulting 5.22 ERA wasn’t pretty, though an uptick in home runs plagued pitchers across the league this season as pundits and players alike speculated on the possibility of some alterations to the composition of the baseball.
For a team that believes Fiers’ homer spike can be managed in 2018-19, he could represent a durable option to fill out the back of a rotation. Fiers has made at least 28 starts per season in each of the past three seasons and has never been on the Major League disabled list. While Fiers isn’t teeming with upside, he’s been a solid two-win pitcher in seasons past and could provide solid value if he can return to that form.
Considering the fact that reclamation projects on the free-agent market are oftentimes priced similarly to Fiers’ arbitration projection — Tyson Ross and Derek Holland each made $6MM on one-year deals last offseason, for instance — and the fact that Fiers has a remaining year of control beyond ’18, it’s not hard to see a club rolling the dice on a low-cost trade. If Houston isn’t able to find a taker, Fiers could be non-tendered and join what has been a bizarrely stagnant free-agent market to date.