Rangers Sign Closer; Feliz to Rotation

by Dan M | Posted on Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

by Dic Humphrey


The Texas Rangers signed the biggest name yet in this year’s slowly developing free agent market when they inked Joe Nathan to a two year, $14.5 million contract. The 37 year-old Nathan is Minnesota’s all-time saves leader and has 261 in his career. He became a free agent this winter when the Twins declined to exercise their 2012 option on him which called for a $12.5 million salary. The Texas offer consists of $7 million salaries in 2012 and 2013, and a club option for 2014 at $9 million, with a $500,000 buy out if not exercised.


Nathan, who has made four all-star teams, was once considered one of the most dominant closers in the game. He missed the 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and returned in 2011 with mixed results. His record was 2-1, with a 4.84 ERA and 14 saves in 17 opportunities. After a slow start in 2011 and a subsequent trip to the disabled list, he came back with a strong second half, hopefully indicative that he is fully recovered from the surgery. Minnesota still wanted him to return and is rumored to have made an offer comparable to the one he agreed to with Texas, which speaks positively about the Twins thinking about Nathan’s health. It is also rumored that a third team offered more money, but Nathan chose the Rangers’ offer instead.

That fact alone is a story in itself. There was certainly a time when free agent pitchers wanted nothing to do with Texas and its hitter friendly ballpark. Randy Johnson was one of the few that actually made a trip to Texas as a free agent, but in retrospect, he was simply pushing Tom Hicks to make an offer that he could use as leverage to get more money out of Arizona where he really wanted to sign.


No more! It’s another benefit of two straight years in the World Series. Nathan took less money and turned down the offer from adopted home town Minnesota, because the Rangers have a solid nucleus that should at least be in the playoffs next season, and have a very good chance of returning to the World Series.


One immediate impact of the signing is on the closer for the past two seasons, Neftali Feliz. The Rangers informed him that he would be moving to the starting rotation next season. By letting Feliz know now, he will be able to tailor his winter training regimen toward being a starter. He has said he is already running as part of his winter training in order to develop the stamina to be able to throw starters’ innings.


Texas has had the Midas touch in turning relievers into starters in recent years. C. J. Wilson moved into the rotation in 2010 and has led the staff in wins in each of the last two seasons. He is now the premier free agent starting pitcher available this winter. This past season, Alexi Ogando moved from the pen to the rotation, won 13 games and made the all-star team. Hopefully the team can strike gold for the third straight year with Feliz.


The inclusion of Feliz in the starting rotation gives the Rangers six starting pitchers, with Ogando, Colby Lewis, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison returning from last season’s starting five; and Scott Feldman. However, the team is still said to be interested in re-signing Wilson, and if unsuccessful in doing so, pursuing an experienced starter through free agency or trade.


While the starting pitcher landscape in Texas may look crowded, it is essential for the Rangers to have starting pitching depth. In 2011, the starting five coming out of spring training started 157 games. It’s highly improbable that such a performance will be duplicated in 2012. The Rangers need to have seven or eight strong candidates. The overcrowded situation will sort itself out.

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