The 2012 role of Neftali Feliz has been debated every which way since the end of the season and the time has come for the Rangers to commit to a decision.
That decision should be moving Feliz into the starting rotation and never looking back. Feliz has been an excellent closer in his first two seasons and there's little reason to believe thatt he wouldn't continue to be great in that role in the years to come. But we all know that he came up to the big leagues with the resume of a future rotation star and the future is now.
No more straddling the fence and trying to eat your cake and have it too. No more dipping your toes in the water and then pulling them out at the first sign that the water is cold. The time has come to make the call and stick with it. There are six reasons why Feliz should be on the mound in the first inning next season.
1. Starters are more valuable than closers - You will hear arguments against this fact but none of them have ever come close to proving that a pitcher who throws in the neighborhood of 70 innings provides as much value to a team as a pitcher who throws in the neighborhood of 200 innings. Feliz can give the Rangers much more value in the years to come by giving them more innings.
2. Closers are easier to find than starters - All you need to do is look at this year's crop of free agents to see that closers are a dime a dozen. Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan and others have been top closers in their career and C.J. Wilson is the best starter available. The fact that the Rangers seem to have lukewarm interest, at best, in continuing their relationship with Wilson should tell you how hard it is to find a top starting pitcher on the open market.
3. The Rangers have succeeded at this before - This isn't always a seamless transition. Just look at the struggles the Yankees have had with Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes. But the Rangers have turned Wilson and Alexi Ogando into good starters over the last two years so they seem to have figured out a system that works when it comes to going from relief to rotation.
4. Money - Feliz is going to get expensive in the next four years. He won't be as expensive as Wilson or another starter who has reached free agency, though, and that's not insignificant for a team that is looking to stay at or near the top of the American League for the long run. Regardless of how good a closer you have, paying a lot of money for a handful of innings isn't an efficient use of money.
5. It doesn't preclude other moves - Let's say the market for Wilson never develops and the Rangers want to bring him back at a reasonable price, there's no reason they can't do that and figure things out down the road. Ogando had a great first half, but he struggled the rest of the way as the American League figured him out and his innings total started rising. His best role still might wind up being as a relief arm and a player like Matt Harrison has hardly done enough to say that he has to have a spot in the rotation.
6. Pencils have erasers - As robust as his profile looks, there's always a chance Feliz isn't cut out to be a starting pitcher. Should that happen, you already know that he's well-suited for another role on the pitching staff. It's not the best case scenario, obviously, but you'd rather try and fail then never know what you have in a pitcher as talented as Feliz.