Nathan agrees to two-year deal with Texas
Addition of experienced closer bumps Feliz to rotation
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers, having gained a sense of what it might take to re-sign C.J. Wilson, have veered off in a different direction when it comes to putting together their pitching staff for 2012.Texas agreed on Monday to a two-year, $14.5 million deal with free-agent reliever Joe Nathan to be its closer in 2012. At the same time, the Rangers announced that closer Neftali Feliz will move into the rotation next year. The team formally introduced Nathan, whose contract also includes a club option for 2014, at a news conference at Rangers Ballpark on Tuesday.
"We're looking at this as two acquisitions," general manager Jon Daniels said on Monday night. "We're getting a guy with big-time makeup, big-time pedigree and big-time stuff in Joe Nathan and also moving one of the best arms in professional baseball to the rotation. This is a move that we have thought about for last two years, but the timing had to be right, and we feel the timing is right now. We feel Neftali has a chance to be a big-time starter sooner than later."Feliz will join a rotation that already includes right-handers Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando, plus left-handers Matt Harrison and Derek Holland. Scott Feldman, a 17-game winner and the Rangers Pitcher of the Year in 2009, also remains in the picture, with top Minor League prospects Martin Perez and Neil Ramirez coming quickly.
The Rangers have not ruled out the possibility of re-signing Wilson, but that seems to be an unlikely proposition at this point, as Daniels has made it clear that Holland, Harrison, Lewis and Ogando will go into next year as starters. Ogando was used as a reliever as a rookie in 2010 before moving into the rotation this season and winning 14 games. There are no plans to move him back into the bullpen."Our plan is to have all of those guys stay in the rotation," Daniels said. Feliz, who was called up to the big leagues on Aug. 2, 2009, and has been here ever since, has never started in the Majors. He has made 154 career relief appearances, and is 7-6 with a 2.55 ERA and 74 saves in 84 opportunities. But he did make 54 starts in 80 appearances in the Minor Leagues. He went 10-6 with a 2.69 ERA in 27 starts at Class A Clinton and Double-A Frisco in 2008 without making one relief appearance. The Rangers have had success in the past two years in moving both Wilson and Ogando into the rotation. Daniels and manager Ron Washington both spoke to Feliz a few days ago about the possibility of going into the rotation. Feliz is willing to make the change. "I was a starter for my whole career before I came to the Major Leagues," Feliz said in a statement released through the Rangers from his home in the Dominican Republic. "I am happy to know the team's decision this early, and I have plenty of time to get ready. I have already started running. "I have time to work on my changeup and all my pitches. I know I have to work hard to be ready to help my team as a starter so we can get back to the playoffs." Feliz's best pitch as a closer has been a fastball that has been clocked as high as 101 mph, but the Rangers know that he can't rely on one pitch as a starter. He had mixed success with a breaking ball last year and did not use his changeup that often. But Daniels and Washington said that Feliz is capable of throwing both pitches effectively. He did so as a starter in the Minors and again last spring. The Rangers went into Spring Training considering the possibility of moving Feliz into the rotation and stretched his innings out during Cactus League play. It was only at the end of Spring Training that the Rangers decided to keep him as the closer, but they still think he has the three-pitch repertoire to make it in the rotation. "I thought Neftali began to develop his secondary stuff as the season progressed," Washington said. "He showed progress in Spring Training until we put him back as closer. It's a matter of repetition. We just need to get Neftali headed in the direction where we need to go. After this his ability will take over." Feliz, under the guidance of conditioning coach Jose Vazquez and pitching coach Mike Maddux, has already begun a running program. He will begin a throwing program in January that will allow him to be on the same program with other starters when Spring Training starts. Feliz was an All-Star as a closer and highly successful until the end. He was 6-for-6 in save opportunities in the playoffs until Game 6 of the World Series against the Cardinals. The Rangers, up 3-2 in the Series, had a two-run lead going into the ninth inning of Game 6, but Feliz gave up a two-run triple to David Freese that sent the game into extra innings. Feliz, with the Rangers having gone back up by two, did not come out for the 10th. Instead the Cardinals tied it up in that frame against Darren Oliver and Feldman, then won it in the 11th on a home run by Freese off Mark Lowe. The Cardinals went on to win Game 7.
The Rangers insist that Feliz's blown save in the ninth inning had nothing to do with the decision to move him into the rotation.This appears to be more of an adjustment to the free-agent market. The Rangers realize that Wilson is attracting significant attention from other teams -- most notably the Angels and Yankees -- and could be a tough, expensive sign. They also knew that the market for starting pitching was thin behind Wilson and Mark Buehrle, whereas there were more attractive options among the available closers. "There are not a lot of guys out there available who can pitch at the top of a rotation, C.J. being one of them," Daniels said. "They command top dollars. He's finding out what his market is. We didn't want to be caught in a position where we didn't have an option. We're not closing the door, but at the same time, we're being realistic. We would love to have C.J. back, but he is going to have options, and we wanted to have options as well." The roster of available free-agent closers includes Ryan Madson, Heath Bell and Francisco Cordero, but Nathan was high on the Rangers' list even though he missed all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He passed a physical on Monday. "I love it," Washington said. "I have always been an admirer of Joe Nathan. He has been in the fire before, and there's not anything at the end of a ballgame that he hasn't experienced before. This is a great move for the Texas Rangers." Nathan returned to the Twins' bullpen in 2011 and had a 5.82 ERA with three saves in the first half. He missed more than two weeks in May and June while dealing with a strained elbow and split time with Matt Capps as the Twins' closer. He had a 3.91 ERA after the All-Star break while holding opponents to a .207 batting average and going 11-for-11 in save opportunities. The Rangers had their scouts watching him. "They saw a guy who has his arm strength back and has got the command and sharpness back on his slider," Daniels said. "He was free and easy on the mound. He passed his physical today, and we feel really good about it. He is an outstanding makeup guy and well conditioned." Prior to missing the 2010 season, Nathan had 246 saves over a six-year period for the Twins. He will be introduced during a news conference in Arlington on Tuesday at 9 a.m. CT.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.