Nathan declines option, becomes free agent
Rangers picked up option, but closer seeks multiyear deal
ARLINGTON -- Joe Nathan has elected to become a free agent rather than be traded by the Rangers. The move opens the way for Neftali Feliz to possibly return to his old role as the Rangers' closer if he can complete a full recovery from major elbow surgery.
The Rangers announced on Friday they had picked up Nathan's option for 2014 at $9 million. But Nathan exercised his right to void the option and become a free agent. Nathan is looking for a least a two-year contract, and the Rangers are reluctant to do that.
If Nathan had not voided the option, the Rangers likely would have tried to trade him in the offseason and use that money to upgrade at other positions. General manager Jon Daniels said the bullpen is one of the Rangers' strengths, and they should be able to find a closer from within the organization.
"Joe has been outstanding, and my expectation is that there are other teams that have a bigger need in the bullpen and can put more resources toward it," Daniels said. "We look at it as we have other areas that are a higher priority on how we allocate our resources. We have more candidates in the bullpen than at other positions we need to address. We were up front with them and told them they needed to factor that into their decision."
The Rangers will likely go with one of three candidates to be their closer in 2013: Feliz, Joakim Soria or Tanner Scheppers. Daniels said the Rangers may not settle on anybody until after they get to Spring Training.
"We feel that our bullpen in general is an area of strength and an area of depth," Daniels said. "I would expect our closer -- barring some unforeseen circumstances -- will be somebody already in the organization. I don't think we'll necessarily name one until we get to Spring Training and see how everybody looks and feels. We have a number of internal candidates who have done it before or could handle it."
Alexi Ogando is another possible candidate, but the Rangers are likely going to keep him in the rotation with Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Matt Harrison.
"It depends ultimately what we've got in the rotation," Daniels said. "We'll look at that first. As we sit here, I expect him to be one of our starters. If the rotation is such that we're looking at Alexi in the bullpen, he will be considered for that role. More likely we're looking at him in the rotation."
Feliz will likely be the leading candidate if he shows he is fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Feliz was the Rangers' closer in 2010-11, when they went to back-to-back World Series. He had 72 saves over two years and seven more in the postseason before moving to the rotation in 2012.
Feliz made seven starts for the Rangers in 2012 before coming down with an elbow injury that ultimately required Tommy John surgery on Aug. 1. Feliz was out for 13 months before finally rejoining the club's bullpen in September. He appeared in just six games and threw 4 2/3 scoreless innings. He is currently working out the club's training facility in the Dominican Republic and is expected to play winter ball at some point.
"He'll certainly be in the mix," Daniels said. "He was one of the best in the game before he got hurt. If he can get back to that level, it makes it an easier decision. If everybody is clicking on all cylinders, we have a chance to be pretty good."
Soria also returned to the Major Leagues in 2013 after missing a full season because of Tommy John surgery. Soria, a two-time All-Star, had 160 saves for the Royals from 2007-11 before undergoing surgery on April 3, 2012. The Rangers signed him to a two-year, $8 million contract last winter with a club option for 2015.
Soria was activated on July 7 and was 1-0 with a 3.80 ERA in 26 games over the final three months of the season. In 23 2/3 innings, he allowed 18 hits, 14 walks and 28 strikeouts.
"With Joakim, at times we saw the reasons why he was one of the best closers in the game while he was at Kansas City," Daniels said. "At other times, he looked like a guy coming off Tommy John. We talk about guys coming back after 12 months, but it's usually the second year when he's back at his best."
Scheppers emerged in 2013 as one of the top setup relievers in the American League. He made 76 appearances for the Rangers and was 6-2 with a 1.88 ERA. Opponents hit .214 off him, and his 27 "holds" are tied for the most ever by a Rangers reliever.
Scheppers has just two saves over the past two seasons with the Rangers, but he had 11 as Triple-A Round Rock's closer for the first two months of 2012 before being called up to the big leagues.
"It was a big breakthrough," Daniels said. "He always had the ability but from a consistency standpoint, he took a big step forward and Joe helped him in that regard."
Nathan, who turns 39 later this month, has been the Rangers' closer for the past two seasons. He was 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves in 2012 while being selected as an All-Star for the sixth time in his career. Opponents hit just .162 off him, and he had just three blown saves. In 64 2/3 innings, he walked 22 and struck out 73. He was also an All-Star with the Rangers in 2012, when he was 3-5 with a 2.80 ERA and 37 saves.
Nathan has 341 career saves, 10th most all-time. His career success rate of 89.97 percent is the highest among any reliever in Major League history with at least 200 career saves.
Jones to join coaching staff
Daniels said Triple-A Round Rock manager Bobby Jones will join manager Ron Washington's coaching staff in 2014 in a role yet to be determined. Double-A Frisco manager Steve Buechele will likely take over at Round Rock.
The Rangers have two openings on the coaching staff. They are looking for a first-base coach and the seventh coach on the bench. That position was created last year and filled by Cesar Hernandez, who is not returning.
Jones could fill one of the two positions. The Rangers would like to add one more coach who could help instruct their catchers. Hector Ortiz, who has been their Minor League catching instructor, is highly regarded by Washington.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.