October is over and that means it is officially time for the Rangers to move forward with their offseason work toward building their 2012 roster.
One of the first questions they need to figure out is what role Neftali Feliz will fill on the pitching staff in 2012. Last year saw the team vacillating between using Feliz as a starter or a closer all the way through Spring Training before finally deciding to leave well enough alone and keep Feliz at the back end of the bullpen. That worked out well for the team, but the question is rearing its head once again.
Jon Daniels said Monday that the team won't go to camp without having made a decision on that front this time around, a good decision given how little there is to be gained by trying to prepare a man for two different jobs at the same time. Given how unprepared Feliz looked early in the season, it was also detrimental to the pitcher to wait that long. The question now is how long they will take to make that decision.
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The determination should come sooner rather than later because it will impact just about every other decision the team makes this offseason. If Feliz is going to be a starter, the need to break the bank to retain C.J. Wilson or sign Yu Darvish becomes much lower because the team will have five starters ready to go for next season. That doesn't mean they wouldn't sign either player and move Alexi Ogando, say, back to the pen, but they could also use that money to pursue an upgrade at first base.
Contrary to what some people believe, there's no need to sign a closer if Feliz makes the move to the rotation. Mike Adams will be back next season, giving the team a solid option at the end of games without committing big money or years on a player at a position with a poor history of making good on such contracts. You could, and almost certainly would, bolster the bullpen with smaller moves, but the need to secure the rotation is definitely paramount.
If Feliz is going to be a closer again next season, the Rangers have to be players for the biggest names on the pitching market. Wilson and Darvish are the two leading lights now that CC Sabathia is staying in New York, but the Rangers will need to be aggressive on the trade market as well if they feel the need to add a big arm to the rotation.
Simply waiting to see what happens and using Feliz as a fallback feels like the worst choice. Using Feliz as a starter clearly maximizes his potential (and doing it now would give the Rangers four years of team control with him in the rotation with 2012 serving as an important transition season), but it would be okay to leave him where he is if the team believes it makes them a stronger team in the short term.
Whichever decision the Rangers make, it should be a proactive one and not a reactive one because Feliz is an important piece of the puzzle regardless of which role he winds up filling next season. The rest of the puzzle can't take shape until you know where Feliz is located, making now the time to make the call on Feliz's future.