Yesterday was a big news day for closers. Unfortunately for the Oakland Athletics, the headliner was Andrew Bailey, who exited his spring outing against the Indians in obvious pain and now has a planned visit with Dr. James Andrews. Another closer who made waves was the Texas Rangers’ Neftali Feliz, but injury wasn’t the culprit. Rather, Feliz gave reporters something to write about when he reversed an earlier decision by stating that he would now prefer to be a starter.
Considering the Rangers’ other starting rotation candidates, it’s probably a good thing Feliz had a change of heart. Cliff Lee’s offseason flight to the Phillies was widely regarded as a blow to the New York Yankees, but in reality, the most significant impact was to the Rangers. Not only does Texas now need to round out three slots in the rotation, but the team must also depend upon the continued resurgence of CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis at the top. In other words, if Feliz returns to being a closer, there might not be many games to save.
Texas Rangers’ 2011 Starting Rotation Candidates
|Tommy Hunter||8.31||8 2/3||15||11||1||10|
To the Rangers’ credit, the organization hasn’t tried to pigeon hole their hard throwing right hander into the role of closer just because he recorded 40 saves in his rookie season. On the other hand, it also hasn’t insisted that Feliz set his sights on the rotation just because doing so would satisfy a greater need. Instead, the club’s decision makers have correctly identified both roles as viable options and given proper deference to the right hander’s opinion. The same approach worked with Wilson, so why not try it again?
Your heart has to be in it. It matters what [Feliz] thinks because he is the one who has to do the job. We want him to be committed.” – Ron Washington, quoted by MLB.com
If the Yankees made one mistake in how they handled Joba Chamberlain, it was their failure to effectively communicate with him. Not only did Chamberlain seem to have little input into the role he would perform, but he also seemed to be in the dark regarding the implementation. There were many times when the “Joba Rules” were as much a mystery to the pitcher as the fans and reporters watching in the stands. Although that doesn’t necessarily excuse Chamberlain’s regression, it surely didn’t ease his development.
The Chamberlain story is water under the bridge, but it does highlight some of the pitfalls the Rangers could face with Feliz. It’s easy to take a player’s wishes into account during spring training, but what will happen when push comes to shove during the season? Keep in mind, Feliz hasn’t been guaranteed a spot in the rotation. Although he has been very effective in the spring, he could still wind up losing out in the competition for one of the team’s starting slots (just like Chamberlain did last spring). Then, an interesting dilemma will emerge. Will Feliz simply revert back to being a closer, or would the Rangers send him to the minors so he can continue working on his new cutter? And, would Feliz’ opinion still matter at that point?
Youngest Relievers to Record 40 Saves
|Bobby Jenks||41||2006||25||White Sox|
Another important question is whether Feliz really knows what he wants. Just last week, he stated a preference for remaining a closer, so it’s hard to believe he is committed to one role over the other. Feliz clearly has the ability to succeed as either a closer or a starter. At some point, he’ll need to make a decision, but in the meantime, there’s no harm in weighing the options. However, once a role has been determined, there should be no turning back. As Washington stated, “your heart has to be in it”, but your mind needs to be made up as well.