Breaking news out of Dallas, as TR Sullivan of MLB.com is reporting that the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers have signed former Twins closer Joe Nathan. Terms have not been disclosed as of yet, but Ken Rosenthal is reporting that it’s a two year deal with a club option. Jon Heyman is reporting that Nathan will be getting around $7 million a year, which seems to be a little much after his 2011 performance. The signing of Nathan will presumably allow incumbent Rangers closer Neftali Feliz to move to the starting rotation.
Last year was Nathan’s first after Tommy John surgery in spring 2010, and he struggled at times. Nathan’s strikeout rate dropped last season, from his career mark of 9.36 to 8.66. But with that decrease in strikeout rate, Nathan’s walk rate fell as well, going from his career mark of 3.40 to 2.82. The major cause for Nathan’s awful 4.84 ERA was a spike in his home run rate, going all the way up to 1.40 dingers per nine. That’s excessively high. Nathan’s average fastball velocity was also down more than one mph in 2011 compared to his career mark, a sign that he wasn’t quite right from the surgery all season.
To talk about Feliz for a minute, the Rangers seemingly have all five slots in their rotation set up, with Alexi Ogando, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Scott Feldman, and Derek Holland all returning. Free agent CJ Wilson will be departing for greener pastures in all likelihood, and I imagine that the team could explore the trade market for Feldman, scheduled to make $6.5 million in 2012. Lewis and his $3.25 million salary could also be on the market. Ogando and Holland are both pre-arbitration players, and Harrison will be entering the process for the first time this offseason. Feliz’s career high in innings in a season is 127 1/3, set in 2008 in the minors for the Rangers. He threw 108 1/3 for the Rangers in 2009, splitting time as a starter and a reliever in the minors before becoming a full-time reliever in the majors. He spent 2010 and 2011 at the back-end of games for the AL champs, winning the AL Rookie of the Year in 2010 with a then rookie record 40 saves. Feliz took a step back last year, saving just 32 games along with a decrease in his strikeout rate and an increase in walk rate. At just 23 years old, the Rangers must have felt like this was the best time to turn him into a starter before they passed the point of no return.
The addition of Nathan strengthens a Rangers bullpen that will feature a full season of Mike Adams and Koji Uehara after they were brought over at the trading deadline this past summer. Before tiring in the World Series, the Rangers bullpen was dominant in the playoffs, highlighted by starters Ogando and Feldman getting crunch time innings. If the team doesn’t want to explore the trade market for one of their starters, they could consider moving one to the bullpen for the long haul to strengthen it even more.