The Texas Rangers spent the spring stretching out last year's Rookie of the Year in hopes he would join their rotation. They announced Thursday that Neftali Feliz would remain the team's closer in 2011. Is this the right decision? A starting pitcher is more valuable to a team so limiting Neftali to ninth inning duties caps his value. However, the Rangers bullpen is weaker than in years past and needs a steady hand like Feliz's.
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With the Rangers rotation set with C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis, Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, Feliz is not needed there currently even with Hunter's recent injury. The door has not been closed on him starting and he we likely be stretched out again next spring. It's a nice idea for the Rangers to give Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland a shot at full seasons in the rotation but to potentially hinder Feliz's progress so Matt Harrison can take his licks may be a bit foolish. Keeping Neftali in the bullpen one more year likely won't hurt his development too much so it's not a major concern but he looked ready to start now.
With so much uncertainty in the Rangers rotation to begin with it may be a good idea to have a solid bullpen to clean up for Hunter, Holland and Harrison as those three are sure to have their share of growing pains this year. Even Wilson and Lewis have question marks of their own so taking a somewhat established closer in Feliz out of the bullpen and turning him into another rotation question mark might not have been the best idea.
The main reason they are keeping him down seems to be a lack of depth in the back end of the bullpen. The back end of a bullpen is one of the easier things to fix so it could be argued that having Feliz close due to a lack of depth is a bad idea. The Rangers have a potential closer type in Alexi Ogando, however, handing him the job would just add one more question to a Rangers pitching staff that is starting to resemble the SAT's. Alexi Ogando will be pushed back into a set-up role now making the bullpen a little deeper.
The Rangers are best off seeing what they have in their trio of young starters and giving Feliz another year to learn about pitching in the majors before turning him into a starter. They would be wise to stretch him out a bit this season and give him a few two inning save opportunities so he gets his innings count up a bit so a move to the rotation in 2012 and pitching 160+ innings would be less of a shock to his arm. With the back end of the Rangers bullpen a weak spot they might have a luxury in a closer who can go an extra inning.
I expect we will see Feliz in the rotation one day but as of now he appears more valuable to the Rangers in the bullpen. What do you think?