With Joe Nathan gone to Detroit and options from outside the organization either too expensive or not appealing, the Texas Rangers are likely to turn back to former closer Neftali Feliz to fill the vacancy in 2014.
This according to MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan, who on Saturday wrote the job appears to be Feliz’s to lose while answering questions from his fan mailbag.
Feliz appears to be healthy again, which puts him in position to be the Rangers' closer coming out of Spring Training. If Feliz is not ready, the Rangers could turn to premier setup reliever Tanner Scheppers or former Royals All-Star closer Joakim Soria. All are potentially good options but right now the job is Feliz's to lose.
Despite working as a starter throughout the majority of his minor league career, Feliz debuted in the Rangers bullpen in limited action in 2009. In 2010, Feliz was named the Rangers closer and flourished in the role, notching 40 saves en route to an all-star appearance and American League Rookie of the Year honors. He continued as closer in 2011, earning another 32 saves with a 2.74 ERA, but it clearly wasn't the position Feliz wanted to fill long-term.
Feliz's desire to be a starting pitcher ended up changing the Rangers plans heading into the 2012 season. Despite an already loaded rotation that included Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and newly-acquired Yu Darvish, Feliz began the season as a starter. Unfortunately, though, it proved to be a short-lived venture as Feliz ended up blowing out his elbow after seven starts and a lone relief appearance.
Feliz underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in August of 2012 and ended up missing nearly a year of action. He returned to the Rangers in a relief role this past September, tossing 4 1/3 scoreless innings, and it appears the team is intent on keeping him there going forward.
As noted by Sullivan, the Rangers have really good closing options beyond Feliz in both Tanner Scheppers and former Royals all-star closer Joakim Soria. That said, it's not difficult to understand why Texas favors Feliz. After all, they witnessed his dominance in 2010 and 2011, which also happen to represent the franchises lone two trips to the World Series (both losing efforts). If he can regain his overpowering fastball and even approach the level of dominance displayed in those seasons, he'll be a perfect fit in the role. And even if he doesn't regain his previous form at that level, he may be a more than suitable candidate. That's how good he was before the operation.
If it doesn't work out or he losses interest in the role, then the extra options will allow the Rangers to take a different approach with Feliz, either to bring him along a little more slowly, find a new role, or move in a different direction all together.
Regardless of how it plays out, the Rangers should be in decent shape in the late innings. Then again, you can never have enough depth, so the internal hope for Texas will continue to be Feliz takes the job and runs with it through the finish line.
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