Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a 10-part series that will focus on questions the Texas Rangers must answer this offseason. These questions are in no particular order.
Today's question: Who closes for the Rangers in 2014?
Give the Rangers credit. They seem to find quality pieces for their bullpen every offseason. Two years ago, general manager Jon Daniels jumped in and snatched Joe Nathan up early in the free-agent season, grabbing the closer that the club felt was the best one left on the market. It was a smart decision. Nathan had 37 saves in 2012 and 43 more this past season at the age of 38. He made $7 million each season.
Nathan was a reliable and steady closer. He was even better last year than he was in 2011. Nathan posted a 1.39 ERA and was 43 of 46 in save opportunities. Opponents hit just .162 against him, fourth-lowest among AL relievers.
The Rangers have an option on that contract at $9.5 million for 2014, but Nathan has the right to void the option thanks to games finished this past season. He's expected to do that since he wants a multi-year deal. The question is whether the Rangers want to pay Nathan on more than a one-year deal at this point, based on his age.
Nathan certainly didn't look like he was slowing down. But the club does have some internal options for that spot. Tanner Scheppers had a solid season and despite a rough start to the second half, did come back stronger near the end of the season. He's got the stuff to do it. Joakim Soria, who will make $5.5 million in 2014, has closing experience. So does Neftali Feliz, who was moved to the rotation when Nathan was signed prior to 2012 and was the club's closer during both of the World Series years.
Daniels was asked a few days after the season about spending big bucks on a closer.
"It's never been our preference," Daniels said. "Nathan's one of the few guys we've invested big dollars in for the bullpen on a multi-year deal, and I'm glad we did. There are a couple of things that are different with Joe. One thing: He's Joe Nathan. We were able to get him at the time because he was recovering from Tommy John surgery at the time. Secondly, we wanted to start Feliz at the time. We looked at the time that we were buying a closer but also enabling ourselves to look at a young starter. We have a lot of areas to address. We're going to continue to talk about that."
It's obviously a critical position and one that has been a consistently good one for the Rangers the past few years with Nathan there. But this club has many needs and they've got to determine how much money to allocate at closer. It's a big offseason question that the club will have to answer.