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Texas Rangers Sign Closer Joe Nathan

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The Texas Rangers have now played their hand with regard to C.J. Wilson, the team’s pitching leader of the 2011 season.  In the few short weeks since losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the Rangers have been relatively quiet about their intentions for Wilson, perhaps because the team knew Wilson might command more money in his year of free agency than the Rangers felt he was worth. 

Rangers Sign Free Agent Joe Nathan

Joe NathanOn Tuesday, the Rangers pulled the proverbial wild card from their sleeve, signing free agent closer Joe Nathan, who spent the last six seasons with the Minnesota Twins as the team’s closer.  Nathan has a lifetime ERA of 2.38, and an opponents’ batting average of .189, the second lowest among active relievers (source: mlb.com).  Texas signed the 37 year-old Nathan to a two-year contract for $14.5 million.

Nathan spent the 2011 season recovering from an earlier “Tommy John” surgery. And in response to questions from the Dallas press at the news conference, neither the Rangers nor Nathan expressed anything but confidence regarding his full recovery, indicated by his second half performance with the Twins.

Dear C.J.

So, what effect does this have on C.J. Wilson’s possibility of signing with the Rangers?  It probably says a lot.  As late as the week before Nathan’s signing, the Rangers were expressing an interest in resigning Wilson, but it seemed to be a tepid public relations move more than anything else. 

C.J. WilsonThe Rangers were more disappointed in Wilson’s performances in the World Series, both in 2010 and in 2011, than the team’s executives have let on to be.  However, general manager Jon Daniels, the team’s architect, had in mind something that virtually no one saw coming, the signing of a true closer, Joe Nathan, enabling the team to make another major move with no additional salary costs for the 2012 season.

Buy One, Get One Free

With the announcement of the signing of Joe Nathan, Jon Daniels revealed in the same press conference that closer Neftali Feliz would be moving to the starting rotation.  I was wrong last week when I said the rumor about Feliz did not have legs. 

While the Rangers had been lukewarm about their love for Wilson, the team’s management had expressed an equal, or lesser, interest in moving Feliz to the starting rotation.  With all hands on deck, it seemed the team was going to fish in the big pond for the best available free agent starter in the market, that is, besides Wilson, with whom the Rangers had become disenchanted.

Neftali FelizIn 2011, during a spring training experiment, Feliz was tested for a starting role.  At the urging of team manager Ron Washington, however, the young pitcher was kept in the closing role for the 2011 season, even though Feliz had performed well in spring training.  Nothing had been shown, until the signing of Joe Nathan, that there would be such a strong commitment from the Rangers to move Feliz to the starting rotation, even three months before the first pitch of spring training.    

There has been talk about Feliz needing to develop another strikeout pitch besides his fastball and that the Rangers needed another year or two with him to make him one of the top pitchers in the league.  Pitching coach Mike Maddux, who earlier had been in the dialogue regarding managerial positions with other clubs, is now planning to stay with the Rangers.  It may not be a coincidence, but it was another shrewd move by the Rangers front office to keep Maddux in Arlington another year.

The Value of C.J. Wilson

Getting back to C.J. Wilson, I believe the Rangers are sincere in the desire to keep him, but the management team does not believe he is worth the amount of money, nor length of contract, that the open market may award him.

One estimate is that Wilson is looking for a six-or seven-year deal for over $120 million. Some have suggested his value has sunk in the past few days, and that he might collect a five-year contract for around $80 million (source: ESPN Dallas).  This is much closer to what the Rangers would be willing to pay him, and the team may very well offer him this sort of contract. However, by signing Nathan and moving Feliz to the rotation, keeping Wilson is a lower priority now than he was previously.  If the Rangers could sign him for five years at $65 million, I believe the deal would be done.

Team Architects Still at Work

So, what other cards might Jon Daniels have up his sleeve?  Without spending near the amount of money it would take to keep Wilson, the team is keeping its powder dry.  There should be ample money to find another top pitcher, or perhaps, a premier first baseman, either by free agency or a trade.

Team owner Nolan Ryan and general manager Jon Daniels have proven again this year that they will be aggressive, if not a little creative, in bringing talent to Arlington.  With all the team’s big names signed for the 2012 season, with the exception of Wilson, the Rangers roster looks stronger than it did in 2011. 

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About ToddT

I enjoy baseball and writing about it. I pay to see independent league play, the Fort Worth Cats and the Grand Prairie AirHogs, and I follow the Texas Rangers rather passionately. A native of the Dallas area, I am nearing 60 years old, and I have been married to my college sweetheart for 36 years and counting.