The Texas Rangers will be shifting their pitching plans a bit after agreeing to terms Monday with RHP Joe Nathan on a two-year, $14.5 million contract with a club option for a third year and a buyout, according to reports.
The move means that Nathan, the longtime Minnesota Twins closer, will keep the job he knows going to Texas, while closer Neftali Feliz, who closed for the Rangers since 2010, will go into spring training moving into the rotation, something the club has already informed him about, according to ESPNDallas.com. Nathan will be formally introduced at a news conference Tuesday morning at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.
Nathan, 36, has been up and down for the past three years.
He missed the 2010 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in March of that year and returned in 2011, pitching in 48 games (44 2/3 innings) with a 4.84 ERA and 14 saves. In 2009, Nathan pitched in 70 games (68 2/3 innings) with a 2.10 ERA and 47 saves, which made him one of the top closers in baseball at the time. From 2004, his first year with the Twins, until 2009, he may arguably have been the top closer in baseball, having six consecutive seasons of 35 or more saves and making four All-Star games.
For Feliz, his move to closer comes as little surprise, knowing that he is a power pitcher capable of throwing fastballs reaching triple-digit velocities coupled with the fact he is coming off a devastating blown save in Game 6 of this year's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Plus, if ace C.J. Wilson signs elsewhere via free agency, then the Rangers already compensate for the loss with Feliz pitching every fifth day.
ESPNDallas.com reported that Feliz issued a statement through the Rangers from his home in Azua, Dominican Republic, stating how excited he was to start. It said:
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. 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.
According to Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com, one of the Rangers' biggest questions last spring training was whether Feliz would start or be back in the bullpen after winning the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year, in part, by breaking the single-season record for saves by a rookie with 40. He came into the 2010 year as a starter, but was eventually promoted to closer after Feliz's predecessor, Frank Francisco, blew two saves in the first week of the season.
Ever since Feliz was cast into the spotlight, all eyes were on him every time he pitched. But now, for the 2012 season, Feliz at least knows what his definitive role will be.