Feliz could be more valuable to Texas as starter
A move from the bullpen could help solidify Rangers' rotation
Jon Daniels was with his family in Israel, trying to finish a deal with Jim Thome before Thome decided to return to his comfort level in Minnesota. Later, Daniels was in the Dominican Republic on Rangers business when he traded with Toronto for Mike Napoli.
"Welcome to the 21st century," said Daniels. "It brings new meaning to the expression 'out of the office.'"
In his time in the Middle East and the Dominican, Daniels had time to think out the possibility of Neftali Feliz moving from closer into the starting rotation. In doing so, he came to these realizations:
The greatest closer in the history of baseball, Mariano Rivera, makes $1.5 million a year less than A.J. Burnett.
Rafael Soriano, who may have been the game's best closer in 2010, had to take a deal as a middle reliever -- against the advice of the Yankees baseball operations folks.
As good as Jonathan Papelbon has been in his career, his $12 million deal in 2011 is likely to be the biggest season paycheck he ever receives, because the market replaces the arbitration process in determining his future contracts.
"Top starting pitchers get valued at $23 or $24 million now," said Daniels. "That speaks volumes about the relative values put on great starters vs. great closers."
There is little doubt that if everything goes right in Surprise, Ariz., this spring, Feliz will be a starter. As he did last March, he will get stretched out until the middle of the month as a starter, building to at least four innings.
"We'll see what happens," said Daniels of his 22-year American League Rookie of the Year winner and wunderkind. "He certainly has the repeatable delivery and athleticism to be a starter. He has shown flashes of a very good changeup. He has shown a very good breaking ball at times -- remember the one he threw to strike out A-Rod in the ALCS.
"It will be up to [manager Ron Washington] and [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux], but if his breaking ball comes and so does his changeup, there's no reason he can't be a starter. We then have to make the decision whether we're better off with him in the rotation. It could be well that we are."
This is not an essay about the worth of 200-inning starters vs. back-end relievers, but it is an intriguing debate. C.J. Wilson made the transition seamlessly last season. One could argue that now that Daniel Bard has restored his self-esteem -- and with his effortless delivery, outstanding changeup and a breaking ball he developed last season -- he could take his 95-98 mph gas and be a third power starter with Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz in Boston.
"It would only work if that's what Daniel wants to do," said one Red Sox official.
Given Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka, it is highly unlikely to even get tried this season, but it is a future discussion point.
The Rangers have Wilson, who will be a free agent at the end of the 2011 season, fronting the rotation with Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Brandon Webb, Derek Holland and Michael Kirkman in the mix. Kirkman, who fought his way back from a past bout with "The Thing," was 13-3 with 130 strikeouts in 131 innings last season at Triple-A Oklahoma City, and brought a 91-94-mph fastball with two breaking balls to the Rangers' bullpen down the stretch. Granted, Feliz had 40 saves and a 71-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 69 1/3 innings, but he, Holland, Kirkman and Martin Perez are the makings of a powerful rotation for years to come -- without having to dip into the free-agent market (which next November will be very thin).
Washington and Maddux could then try to cobble together a bullpen with Alexi Ogando, Darren O'Day, Tanner Scheppers, Mark Lowe, Darren Oliver, Arthur Rhodes, Matt Harrison and whoever doesn't stick in the rotation.
Daniels, with the sage advice of John Hart, badly wanted Thome after Vladimir Guerrero turned down the club's $8 million offer. With Adrian Beltre alongside Elvis Andrus on what may be the best left side of any infield, the Rangers have Michael Young and Napoli to DH. Napoli can also catch occasionally, split time with Mitch Moreland at first. And in a division with three left-handed starters in Oakland, and more in Seattle and Los Angeles, he hammers lefties. Jamie Newberg noted in his daily report that, taking FanGraphs weighted runs created plus over the last three years, the only players in the Majors better against left-handed pitching are Albert Pujols, David Wright, Kevin Youkilis and Carlos Beltran (Guerrero is 90th).
The AL West is an interesting division. Oakland's pitching and GM Billy Beane's offseason additions make them legitimate contenders. The Angels have taken a public flogging, but their back-end additions deepen the pitching. Mike Scioscia vows they will play better defense. And no matter how one obsesses about Vernon Wells' contract, they are a better team with him than without him -- especially if he plays left, with Peter Bourjos in center, Torii Hunter in right and Bobby Abreu doing what he does best -- DH.
These are different times in The Metroplex without Tom Hicks. They may have the fourth-biggest market, wise management, a franchise player in Josh Hamilton ...
Now do you take the game's best young closer and make him a starter?
There must be a reason Burnett makes better coin than Rivera.
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.