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Hot Stove: Joe Nathan Signs With the Rangers
Dan Port | Monday November 21st, 2011
Texas is hoping Nathan can become a top closer again. (Icon SMI)
Texas is hoping Nathan can become a top closer again. (Icon SMI)

The reigning American League champion Texas Rangers bolstered their bullpen this week by signing former Twins closer Joe Nathan to a two-year contract.  The deal has a club option for 2014 and Nathan will earn $14.5 million in guaranteed money.  The move has big implications not only for Nathan, but also for Texas' incumbent closer Neftali Feliz, who will almost certainly become a starting pitcher.

The 37 year-old Nathan had an up and down 2011 campaign after missing all of 2010 while recovering from Tommy John surgery, posting a 4.84 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP with 14 saves and 43 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings.  From 2004 to 2009, Nathan was one of MLB's most dominant and consistent closers and compiled a combined 1.87 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 246 saves, and 518 strikeouts in 418 2/3 innings pitched.  He initially joined the Twins with Francisco Liriano back in 2004 as part of the deal that sent A.J. Pierzynski to the Giants, a trade that is generally regarded as one of the most lopsided swaps in recent league history.

While he may not achieve the same level of dominance as he did during his best years with the Twins, Nathan could prove to be a reliable and effective closer with Texas, assuming he can stay healthy and continue to post good strikeout numbers.  His post-surgery average fastball velocity last season was over a full mile per hour lower than it was in 2009 (92.3 to 93.6, according to Fangraphs), but the money involved suggests that the Rangers are confident in his abilities.

The Rangers also appear quite confident that reliever Neftali Feliz, the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner, is capable of making a successful transition from closer to starter.  When he initially joined the Rangers back in 2009, Feliz was considered a candidate for the starting rotation but his excellent performance out of the bullpen led to his installation as the team's closer in 2010.  In his two-plus big league seasons, Feliz has racked up a combined 74 saves and a 2.55 ERA and 0.95 WHIP with 164 strikeouts in 162 2/3 innings pitched.

Now, though, Feliz will be counted on to carry that success into the starting rotation, much in the same way that lefthanded ace (and current free agent) C.J. Wilson did in 2010.  If the move goes well for Texas, they will improve a shaky starting rotation and be on their way to getting their questionable pitching staff up to the level of their dynamic hitting lineup.

Overall, this signing is a calculated gamble for the Rangers, but also one that could pay huge dividends.  Nathan could have a lot of save opportunities in 2012, though his health and consistency on the mound will dictate his value as a real and fantasy baseball commodity.  Feliz's solid big league numbers and the past success of Texas reliever-turned-starters Wilson and Alexi Ogando suggest that he could become a very vital part of the Rangers' starting staff and any fantasy baseball roster, though time will tell whether that turns out to be the case.
Dan PortDan Port has been a writer and article editor for Baseball Press since the fall of 2009. He's a Wisconsin native and Los Angeles resident, as well as an aspiring novelist, moderately successful gambler, and avid craft beer aficionado. You can reach him at dan@baseballpress.com or check him out on Twitter @danport and at DanielPort.com.