It wasn't surprising that Joe Nathan became a free agent today. The Texas Rangers did, in fact, exercise the option on the 38-year-old Nathan's contract for 2014, but they were honest about the bullpen situation with him and he opted to seek a multiyear deal in free agency rather than risk getting traded. The move also allows the Rangers to avoid paying the $750,000 buyout.
It means a financial savings for 2014 too, since the internal candidates won't make anything close to the $9 million the Rangers would have paid Nathan had he not declined the option. So what about those internal options? General manager Jon Daniels talked about three of them Friday, noting that the club has priorities at other positions and that at this time it makes sense to keep that closer job in-house.
There are three clear options (in alphabetical order):
Neftali Feliz. Remember him? He came back from Tommy John surgery and appeared in just six games -- all losses -- in September. But the 25-year-old is working out and getting ready for the season and will pitch at winter ball at some point as part of a conditioning program planned by the team. Feliz had two years of closing experience for the Rangers before the signing of Nathan prior to the 2012 season allowed the club to shift Feliz to the rotation. If he's healthy, he certainly has a shot to reclaim that job.
Tanner Scheppers. He emerged as a solid, reliable eighth-inning setup man in 2013, a stepping stone for many closers. Scheppers, who turns 27 in January, had 27 holds and a 1.88 ERA in 76 appearances (76 2/3 innings pitched) last season. Scheppers struggled some in August but rebounded with a strong September. He'll head into spring training with a lot of confidence.
"With Scheppers, it was a big breakout performance for us," Daniels said. "He's always had that ability, but from a consistency standpoint, he took a big step forward."
Daniels credits Nathan for helping Scheppers take that step.
Joakim Soria. Like Feliz, Soria also has closing experience. His last visit to the All-Star Game came in 2010, a season in which he had 43 saves and a 1.78 ERA. Soria had Tommy John surgery in 2012 and returned to the big leagues in July. He had a 3.80 ERA in 23 2/2 innings pitched.
"He's a guy that at the time was one of the best closers in the game in Kansas City and at times [in 2013] looked like a guy a year off from Tommy John surgery," Daniels said. "We talk about guys coming back in 12 months [from Tommy John], but a lot of times it's not until the second year that you see them at 100 percent. You saw that at times this year."
Daniels said that he's hoping Soria follows a path similar to Nathan, in that it took Nathan a little time following surgery before he started to dominate again.
But Friday's move gives the Rangers some financial flexibility to worry about their other needs, like finding a catcher, another outfielder and figuring out what they want to do at first base.