Here’s what I love about Jon Daniels and the Texas Rangers front office- they are full of surprises!
You can read all you want about Hot Stove activity, listen to MLB radio, have ESPN and MLB TV attached at your hip on your Smartphone and still be totally surprised at the announcements that come from the Rangers.
A year ago, when the baseball world was intent on the Rangers’ pursuit of Cliff Lee, out of nowhere came the trade with the Blue Jays that brought Mike Napoli to Texas.
In 2011, while all the talk has been focused on Texas’ efforts to re-sign CJ Wilson and whether or not the Rangers are serious players for either Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, again Jon Daniels pulls a rabbit out of his hat and announces the signing of former Twins closer Joe Nathan to a two-year deal with a third year option.
The trickle-down effect is immediate. Nathan has been signed to be the closer, putting former closer Neftali Feliz on a collision course to being one of the Rangers’ starters in 2012. Texas also announced Alexi Ogando will not be returning to the bullpen in 2012. Thus, the Rangers already have a starting five, even if they don’t ink Wilson to a new deal: Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Ogando and Feliz.
Moving Feliz into the rotation was discussed a year ago. In fact, Feliz was stretched out as a starter throughout Spring Training before the brass decided they needed him more in the bullpen. With Nathan’s signing, that obstacle has been removed.
Nathan’s 2011 stats don’t look that impressive after returning from Tommy John surgery: a 4.54 ERA and only 14 saves for the Twins. They look a lot better, though, if you take April out of the equation. Nathan ended the first month of the 2011 season with an ERA of 10.00 and two blown saves. From May through September, though, he was 11 for 12 in Save Opportunities with a 3.53 ERA, 7 walks and 36 strikeouts in 35.2 innings, with a .213 Batting Average Against and a 1.01 WHIP. Even if Nathan struggles out of the gate in 2012, Mike Adams will provide able back-up as a closer.
I would bet the Rangers are hoping Derek Holland is ready to step up and be the #1 starter after his outstanding World Series performance, with Lewis #2 and so on. Scouts have said Feliz could have #1 starter stuff, but he’s going to have to prove it and will probably start the year in the #4 or #5 slot.
This isn’t to say Texas won’t be signing another starter. Wilson could still come back, although it appears less likely right now. I still hold out hope for Mark Buehrle to come the Rangers’ way, but I don’t know if that will happen or not. If Texas signs another starter, it could mean Matt Harrison would be traded. Or it could give Texas the luxury of letting Feliz start 2012 at the AAA level to get used to being a starter before bringing him up for the second half of the season.
Whatever the end result will be heading into Spring Training, I’m willing to bet there will be more surprises coming. Maybe that’s why the Rangers have Spring Training in Surprise, Arizona.