The Rangers signed Joe Nathan to be their closer this week, but this is not the real news. The real news is that it means the Rangers have decided to let C.J. Wilson walk and are moving Neftali Feliz back into the rotation. The move make sense as only Feliz amongst their rostered pitchers has the makings of a #1 or #2 starter to fill Wilson’s cleats.
While exciting in theory, keep several things in mind. First off, Feliz saw his K/9 drop to a 7.8 and struggled with his control, watching his BB/9 rise two full points from 2010. Also keep in mind that his single season high innings pitched was 69.1 in the Majors. In the minors his single season high was 127.1. In other words, one cannot expect Feliz to replace Wilson’s 200+ innings immediately. Admittedly, Wilson himself went from 73 innings to over 200 innings for two straight years, but keep in mind that the lefty was much further along the physical development curve as a 29-year old being moved to a starting role. Converting a 23-year old who spent time on the disabled list to such a role is worthy of greater scrutiny.
As for Nathan, he came back well from Tommy John surgery, showing his pre-injury control, albeit with a slightly reduced K/9 to an 8.7. It was the first time the right-hander had failed to strikeout more than a batter per innings since 2002 and it is not surprising to note that also averaged a full mph less than he had previously and was down two mph from his peak seasons on his fastball. Nathan could bounce back somewhat now that he is more removed from surgery, but at 37 years of age, it is more likely we are in for more of the same, which is not bad at all.
The Phillies were active again in the band aide market this weekend. Now in addition to Jim Thome, the Phillies acquired Ty Wigginton for a player to be named or cash. Ryan Howard is recovering from a ruptured left Achilles tendon and while some reports out there are optimistic and may even have the slugger back with the team by mid-April, the Phillies still did not want to take chances. Wiggington, even after Howard returns, is a good spare part for a contending team. He has experience at a variety of positions (this does not mean he is good at any), makes contact, and provides some power. Last season he hit just .242, but this was due in great part to a .270 batting average on balls in play when you consider he made contact over 80% of the time and an isolated power of .175. He is best utilized in a platoon role with a career .354 OBP, .461 SLG against lefties and .314 .437 marks against righties. Wigginton will mostly see action at first base and third base next year (Placido Polanco is coming back from injury too), but his total playing time is up in the air and will be determined by the health of the rest of the roster.
Just How Bad is the Free Agent Market for Shortstops?
Clint Barmes received a two-year deal worth over $10 million dollars. If he played another position, Barmes would likely have to settle for a minor league deal or could have ended up a minor league journeyman long ago. Instead his above average defensive skills at shortstop along with decent power and contact making skills for the position made him an “in-demand” commodity. Consequently it lead to a multi-year deal despite having a career .302 OBP.
The right-handed shortstop has been pretty much at the same offensive level for years, making contact more than 80% of the time, making into the low-teens in the home run department (2009 with the Rockies sticks out as a clear fluke in the power department). Despite his contact rate, he has rarely been able to hit much above .250 (career .252 hitter). The reason? Like Wigginton, he is a platoon player, failing to crack a .244 .292 .379 line against righties over his career. In NL only leagues last year, Barmes earned $8. Expect more of the same.