Texas Rangers closer Joe Nathan is expected to decline his $9M contract option and become a free agent, reports T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com. Nathan's contract includes a team option for 2014, but the pitcher earned the right to refuse the option by finishing more than 55 games in 2013. By declining the option, Nathan also forfeits his $750,000 buyout, according to Cot's Baseball Contracts.
Nathan, who signed a two-year deal with the Rangers prior to the 2012 season, is expected to seek a multi-year contract on the open market despite his advanced age and injury history. The 38-year-old saved 80 games in 86 attempts over the last two campaigns and enjoyed one of the best seasons of his career in 2013, posting a 1.39 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 64⅔ innings while converting 43 of 46 save opportunities. With Nathan anchoring the bullpen, Texas led the majors with an 80.7% save conversion rate.
If Nathan departs via free agency, then Texas's search for a new closer could begin with a few internal options. Joakim Soria saved 160 games for the Kansas City Royals during his five-year stint there, and was widely considered one of the elite closers in baseball at the time; the 29-year-old was solid in 2013 after recovering from his second Tommy John surgery. Neftali Feliz was the Rangers' closer in 2010 and 2011, racking up 72 saves in those two seasons combined; Felix, 25, threw only 4⅔ inning in 2013 while recovering from his own Tommy John procedure. Right-hander Tanner Scheppers is also a possibility, as the 26-year-old posted a 1.88 ERA in 76⅔ innings during his rookie campaign.
There are also options on the free agent market, with Koji Uehara, Grant Balfour, and Fernando Rodney headlining the long list of potentially available closing options. There is also the possibility that Nathan could re-sign with Texas if there is mutual interest in a reunion.