Late Monday reports began surfacing that the Texas Rangers had signed longtime Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan to a two-year deal with a third-year option.
Nathan, who turns 37 today, depending which report you read, will receive $14.5 million over the next three years if the Rangers pick up that third year. There's also some reports that it's two years for $14 million, not including the option. The team did not release financial terms of the deal.
Nathan missed all of 2010 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and struggled for the first half of 2011 before seeming to finally find his old self over the second half of last year splitting time as the Twins closer and set-up man. He gave up 11 runs in 29 1/3 innings over his final 31 appearances of the year compiling a 3.38 ERA over that stretch.
You're right to have your doubts about Nathan, and his age, and his injury history. But if he's right, he's good. And the Rangers front office has been pretty dead-on for years now, ever since the blowing the John Danks for Brandon McCarthy deal. You have to trust them.
This signing seems to get the ball rolling on a lot of things, one of which has already been announced...
- Neftali Feliz, the 23-year-old closer two years removed from winning AL Rookie of the Year honors and setting an MLB record for most saves by a rookie (which was broken this season), will now move to the starting rotation. The Rangers flirted with the idea last year but didn't make the call until spring training when they tried to stretch Feliz out to start before ultimately moving back to the bullpen out of spring training and finding a gem in Alexi Ogando instead. Can Feliz prove worthy enough as a starter to warrant moving him from the back of your bullpen? The Rangers certainly think so. He'd been a starter his whole life before making it to the big leagues and was seen as the team's future ace back when he was dominating folks at Double-A Frisco. He has to find a third pitch, presumably a changeup, to go with his fastball and slider, which he needs to gain more control and confidence in. He has to become less reliant on his blazing fastball. It's going to be an adventure, and Rangers fans shouldn't just assume he's going to take the league by storm. As of now, I see him being no better than a No. 3 starter for the team. Maybe Feliz just isn't capable of handling the stress of being a closer on a big-time team. There were reports he was "distraught" after blowing the Game 6 lead in the ninth inning that ultimately led to the Rangers' World Series loss. But he does seem happy to know his future this far in advance so he can prepare to be a starter going into spring training.
“Jon Daniels and Ron Washington called me a couple of days ago and told me about the team’s decision for me to be a starting pitcher next season," Feliz said in a statement. "I was a starter for my whole career before I came to the major leagues. 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.”
- It also means C.J. Wilson's days in Arlington are probably a thing of the past, which is pretty unfortunate. Say what you want about Wilson's postseason performance in the past two years, which has left a lot to be desired. But something also has to be said for his regular-season performances, especially this year's when he posted a 2.94 ERA pitching in this ballpark, which is pretty remarkable. Wilson met with Angels brass on Monday night, and if you're a Rangers fan, you better hope he doesn't end up there. Just think Mike Napoli, but in reverse. The only way Wilson comes back to Arlington now is if he decides to give the team a hometown discount, which is not very common these days.
- Do the Rangers still go out and try to get another starter even though they're moving Feliz to the rotation? You'd have to hope so. Assuming they don't, and they stand pat with the way things are here's your likely starting rotation for 2012: Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison. As a fan of the four guys who started last year out of that group, I'm not sure Feliz will be better than any of them. If you sign a starter, who do you bump? Harrison? Probably, but he gave you quite a bit of positive in 2011. There's starters on the free agent market and the trade market to be had. Matt Garza is intriguiing. John Danks is intriguing. Mark Buerhle is intriguing. Then there's Yu Darvish. You get the idea.
- If the Rangers do, in fact, stand pat with the rotation as is, it opens the door for a big splash for a position player. Can you say Prince Fielder? I certainly can. If the Rangers land Fielder, they might need for the starters to simply hold opponents to five runs or less to win a whole lot of games. But as we've learned before, that won't cut the mustard in October.
So there you have it, things will unfold pretty quickly from here on out, I'd think. Although the Rangers made a late move last off-season to acquire Adrian Beltre, so you never know with this aggressive group in the front office. One thing's for sure, the stove is getting hot, and it's always a fun time of the year.