C.J. Wilson's last appearance for the Texas Rangers just might have been his relief stint in Game 7 of the World Series in which he hit Rafael Furcal in the rear end with his first pitch to score a run, a near-unimaginable moment for the left-hander who had a forgettable postseason.
It's not that Rangers fans haven't anticipated a Wilson-less rotation in 2012, or even made a quick peace with such a resolution, but Monday's moves -- signing four-time All-Star Joe Nathan as the club's next closer and moving Neftali Feliz to the rotation -- provided clarity.
General manager Jon Daniels said the club hasn't closed the door on negotiations to retain Wilson, but he offered: "We're also realistic on what happens when the top free agents get to this point. The market is what it is."
Daniels said he is comfortable with the starting arms in place and that the plan is to keep last season's other four starters in the rotation.
"The way we’re looking at our rotation right now, in no particular order, you’ve got Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, plus Scott Feldman, plus a number of other guys at the upper level that are knocking on the door," Daniels said. "So, on one hand we’re in good shape if we were going to start spring training tomorrow. On the other hand, I don’t think you could ever have enough good pitching."
The hope, obviously, is that Feliz, 23, will continue to develop the secondary pitches that he will need to complement his high 90-mph fastball and survive as a starter. Feliz will become the third bullpen hand to move to the rotation in as many years. Wilson did it in 2009 and won 30 games and pitched more than 400 innings over the last two seasons. Ogando made the All-Star team as a reward for his red-hot start to last season before moving into the bullpen for the postseason.
The Rangers believe Feliz, with his youthfulness and natural ability, can be better than both. He has been projected as a front-line starter for the long haul.
That journey starts now -- apparently with or without C.J. Wilson.
"I thought Neftali began to develop his secondary stuff last year as the season progressed," manager Ron Washington said. "He certainly was showing some progress in spring training before we had to put him back into the closer's role. It isn't anything that's foreign to him. He was a starter his whole career until we decided to make him a reliever. So, it's just a matter of repetition. I think between [pitching coach] Mike [Maddux] and Hawk [bullpen coach Andy Hawkins] and the rest of our pitching guys in the system, we will be able to get Neftali going in the direction that we need him to go in, and his ability from that point should take over."