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Star-Telegram.com

Feliz likely close to moving into Rangers' rotation

Posted Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2011

By Jeff Wilson

jwilson@star-telegram.com

MILWAUKEE -- The last time Neftali Feliz was seen on a baseball field, he was one strike away from closing out the World Series.

The next time the Texas Rangers' closer is seen on a baseball field, he could very well be a starting pitcher.

Feliz's failure to close out Game 6 of the Fall Classic has nothing to do with the Rangers' desire to move him to the rotation, and he won't be simply plugging a hole should free agent C.J. Wilson sign elsewhere this off-season.

Feliz was groomed as a starter in the minor leagues, was rotation-worthy last spring, and his full potential and value would be realized if he becomes the front-of-the-rotation pitcher the Rangers envisioned when he was acquired in 2007.

It's not a given that Feliz will become a starter, though the idea seems to have more merit than ever. Part of the reason for the rotation push is a deep field of closers available this off-season -- via free agency or trades -- who could fill the Feliz void at the back of the bullpen.

"We prepared him for the rotation last year, and he earned the right to be in our rotation," team president Nolan Ryan said Wednesday ahead of the fourth-quarter owners meetings.

"To put him in the rotation this year, we're going to have to fill that closer's role. How will we fill that? I don't know that yet."

Jonathan Papelbon was the top free-agent closer and was taken off the board by Philadelphia for four years and $50 million. Heath Bell, Ryan Madson and Francisco Rodriguez top the rest of the field, but are likely to be too expensive for the Rangers.

The Rangers could attempt a risk/reward signing like Joe Nathan, who had Tommy John elbow surgery in 2010, or 2011 injury casualties Brad Lidge (shoulder) and Jonathan Broxton (elbow).

There is value there, but the Rangers can't enter the season relying on hope at a key spot.

"In each of these deals you assess the risk," assistant general manager Thad Levine said as the GM meetings came to a close.

"You listen to your scouts and you listen to your medical staff. Part of assessing risk is knowing the makeup of the player and the likelihood of them being able to overcome a health issue."

The Rangers' 2012 closer could reside on another roster. Colorado, for instance, is willing to move Huston Street, a native and resident of Austin who is guaranteed $8 million next season.

The wildly effective Carlos Marmol could be had from the Chicago Cubs, and Oakland took calls on Andrew Bailey over the summer before the July 31 trade deadline.

"We feel as if the market is flush with talent right now," Levine said. "From a business-model standpoint, we've never aspired to be the team that has a significant portion of its payroll locked up on a closer."

Internally, Mike Adams is a closer candidate. It's a role he covets, and the Rangers could make the move happen by re-signing free-agent left-handers Darren Oliver and Michael Gonzalez and adding a right-handed piece.

They learned in the postseason the impact a dominant bullpen can have, and showed in July that relievers can be acquired during the season.

"If you move Feliz to the rotation, you make sure you have someone capable of pitching in the back end of the bullpen," Levine said. "We saw last year it's so much easier to add bullpen supplements throughout the course of the season than starting pitching."

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760

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