<
>
Insider

Nathan deal opens door for Feliz

11/21/2011
Neftali Feliz struck out 10.7 per nine innings in the minors, when he was predominantly a starter. Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Texas Rangers turned heads this evening by signing reliever Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 million deal with a club option.

The price per year is high -- most likely reflecting the market premium for a "proven closer" -- but the short commitment of two years makes it a little easier to swallow, and the effect of moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation is a big net positive.

Nathan missed all of 2010 due to Tommy John surgery, and wasn't his old self when he returned in 2011 until a mid-year DL stint, after which he looked more like his former self. He gave up a bomb to Corey Hart in his first outing off the DL in late June, then threw 28 1/3 innings with 28 strikeouts, five walks and three home runs allowed to close out the year. It's not an ace closer line, or a $7 million one, but it's progress in the first year back from reconstructive elbow surgery. I could see Nathan -- who I ranked No. 42 on my free agent rankings -- giving the Rangers 60 good-not-great innings in 2012 while Mike Adams handles a few save opportunities as the Rangers try to avoid pitching Nathan too often without rest.

But more important to the Rangers is the plan to move Feliz to the rotation, something that is probably a year overdue. All the more so when you consider how poor a job Ron Washington does managing a bullpen. Is that really where you want one of the best young arms your system has ever produced?

Feliz was a starter for most of his minor league career and had no trouble holding plus velocity deep into games. He has the off-speed pitches to profile as at least a No. 2 starter, although he'll have to use them more than he has as a fastball-heavy reliever. He'll also need to get over the control issues that troubled him in 2011 (4.3 BB/9 IP), some of which was related to trying to overthrow the fastball. But I'd rather give $7 million to Joe Nathan, even with his various risks, and put Feliz in the rotation than use whatever that same money would buy me in a free-agent starter.