One of the most hotly discussed topics of conversation for the Rangers this offseason is whether they should move Neftali Feliz to the rotation.
Our take is that it is time to make the move. His arm is too good to be used for just 60 innings a season, especially if Ron Washington is going to be so slavishly devoted to using him for one inning at a time that he refuses to send him out with the World Series on the line in the 10th inning of Game Six. You can find someone else to save 35 or so games a year while Feliz hopefully blossoms into a top of the rotation starter.
Should the Rangers do that, the discussion will immediately shift to the need to replace Feliz. Adam Boedeker argues that the team will have to go out and sign a stud closer to take Feliz's place at the back of the bullpen. Adam's a fine man, but he's wrong on that front.
With the news that Ryan Madson is close to returning to the Phillies for four years and $44 million, you've got an idea about just how much such a closer is going to cost you. That kind of commitment to a relief pitcher has never paid off unless the guy on the receiving end is named Mariano Rivera. Performances fluctuate, pitchers age (again, unless they are named Mariano Rivera) and, at the end of the day, their workload comes nowhere close to justifying the outlay of cash.
That's true generally and it is even more true in the specific case of the current Rangers roster. You have Mike Adams already signed for next year after trading prospects for him because you thought he's a strong relief pitcher. He's never been a closer, therefore he lacks the "proven closer" tag that people prize way too much, but that's just a question of opportunity.
You don't need to totally ignore the free agent market when it comes to relief, but there's much more value to be found lower down the list. Install Adams as the closer and then sign Jonathan Broxton or David Aardsma (or both) to incentive-laden deals as they try to bounce back from an elbow injury. Kerry Wood had a good year in relief for the Indians, he's closed before and he won't cost much as a homecoming candidate. Chad Qualls, Jason Isringhausen and LaTroy Hawkins aren't great closing candidates, but all are experienced, inexpensive arms to build out a bullpen in front of Adams.
And we haven't even mentioned using the pen as a way to get Martin Perez, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross or Neil Ramirez some big league experience. You could put together quite the battle for bullpen spots with just the players listed here and spend less combined than you would on one big-ticket closer whose contract would likely wind up an albatross.
The Rangers lost in the World Series to a team with Jason Motte closing games at the back of a pen put together with pieces like the ones mentioned above. The Rays came all the way back to make the playoffs with the same kind of pen and Kyle Farnsworth was their closer.
Given the quality of the team the Rangers have, there's no reason to think they need to spend heavily on a closer to remain a top contender for the title.