Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers Reach Two-Year Contract Agreement

CLEVELAND, OH: Joe Nathan #36 and Rene Rivera #32 of the Minnesota Twins celebrate after defeating the Cleveland Indians in their game at Progressive Field in Cleveland, Ohio. The Twins defeated theIndians 6-4. (Photo by David Maxwell/Getty Images)

The Texas Rangers have signed free agent could-be closer Joe Nathan to a two-year contract, which seems to pave the way for Neftali Feliz moving to the rotation.

There are moves that are very easy to see coming, there are moves that are less easy to see coming, and there are moves that come almost completely out of nowhere. This is one of those last ones. From T.R. Sullivan:

The Texas Rangers have signed Closer/RHP Joe Nathan.

Adds Ken Rosenthal:

Nathan signs with #Rangers - two-year deal with club option.

And finally, from Jon Heyman:

Nathan gets 2 yrs, about $7M per year

The Rangers had been linked to Nathan as a free agent, but this move still caught our own Lone Star Ball by surprise, so it's safe to say it caught me by surprise, too. And it probably caught you by surprise. Maybe the only people it didn't catch by surprise are members of the Rangers' front office, Joe Nathan, and Joe Nathan's agent.

What's most interesting about this deal are the implications of this deal. We'll get to that in a bit. First, what do the Rangers have in Joe Nathan? Nathan is a right-handed reliever who turns 37 tomorrow. Between 2003-2009, he posted a 2.04 ERA over 490 appearances. Over that same span of time, Mariano Rivera posted a 1.87 ERA over 469 appearances.

Clearly, Nathan used to be good. Dominant. Why did I cut off in 2009, though? Because Nathan missed the entire 2010 season after Tommy John surgery. He then came back last year and wasn't quite his old self, posting a below-average ERA for the first time since 2000.

So Nathan entered free agency this month with some question marks. However, the Rangers have reason to believe he'll be effective. In his first ten innings last season, he had eight walks and seven strikeouts. In his final 34⅔ innings, he had six walks and 36 strikeouts. It's possible that Nathan began his season shaking off a little rust, and shortly settled into a groove.

The amount of money the Rangers are giving to Nathan strongly suggests that they want him to be their closer. One could have argued in favor of Mike Adams, who has been a dominant setup man, but Nathan has that highly sought-after closing experience. The luxury of Adams, though, is that he's there as a backup in the event that Nathan stumbles. Given that Nathan is getting up there in years, he's no guarantee, even though he looks like a pretty good bet.

The bigger story here - bigger than Nathan actually signing with the Rangers and becoming their closer - is what this means for Neftali Feliz. John Blake:

The club has informed RHP Neftali Feliz that he will move to the rotation in 2012.
Nov 22 via Twitter for BlackBerry®FavoriteRetweetReply

The Rangers have toyed with the idea of moving Feliz into the rotation in the past, but there's no toying here - this is a guarantee. Assuming Blake hasn't warped the message, Neftali Feliz will start in 2012.

Feliz hasn't been a regular starter since 2009, when he started 13 games with triple-A Oklahoma City. As a starter between 2008-2009, Feliz showed obvious strikeout potential, but he also walked too many hitters. He was, at that time, a prospect.

But 2009 was a long time ago, and there's really no telling how Feliz will adjust now. On the one hand, he's had plenty of success out of the Rangers' bullpen, he has velocity to give, and he's been known to throw four pitches. On the other hand, relieving is very different from starting, we don't know how his fastball will play at a lower speed, and we don't know if his secondary pitches are good enough.

We're going to get answers, though. We don't have to wonder if Neftali Feliz could cut it as a starter. We're going to find out if Neftali Feliz can cut it as a starter. The Rangers are going to see what they have.

Obviously, there's plenty of reason for optimism. Feliz has good raw stuff, and there was the whole C.J. Wilson thing. C.J. Wilson made a pretty effective switch from the bullpen to the rotation. Alexi Ogando had a lot of success last season relying on his heater and breaking ball. We just won't know until we see. Feliz could go in any number of directions, and we'll start finding out in March.

It looks as if the Rangers' rotation is set, now, although things could change. It looks as if the Rangers are content to replace the presumably departing Wilson internally. They could end up missing him something terrible. Or they could very much not.

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