Spring question: Who is the closer?
One frequent question from fans this offseason involves why the club hasn't looked outside the organization for a closer. The decision was made to part ways with Joe Nathan -- and he made that decision, too, as he wanted a multiyear deal and the Rangers weren't comfortable with that -- because the team was so confident in its internal options.
So the bulk of the offseason was spent bolstering the lineup and looking for pitching depth, rather than worrying about a closer that might have been available as a free agent or via trade.
*Neftali Feliz. He comes into spring the favorite in large part because he's shown signs of returning to his 2010 and 2011 form with how he performed at winter ball and the reports the club is getting on him.
Feliz isn't coming into spring training stretched out as a starter. His job is only to be in the bullpen, and he's said he's good with that. The 25-year-old has closing experience, performing well in that job in 2010 and 2011 and collecting 74 career saves.
The question will be whether he mentally feels like he can handle it. His last experience as the guy charged with getting those final three outs was Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. But it's worth noting that the club didn't remove Feliz from the job because of that game. They had a chance to get Nathan early in the offseason after that year and pounced. That allowed them to shift Feliz to the starting role and see if that was better suited for him.
Two seasons later -- and rehabbing from Tommy John surgery -- Feliz heads to spring training as the frontrunner to get his old job back.
*Joakim Soria. When it comes to closing experience, the 29-year-old Soria has a bunch of it. He saved 28 games in 2011 for the Kansas City Royals and made the All-Star team with 43 saves in 2010. He's got 160 career saves, by far the most of any of the Rangers' closing candidates.
Soria was 1-0 with a 3.80 ERA in 2013 with Texas as he returned from elbow surgery after missing all of 2012. Soria did have the benefit of a regular offseason after getting healthy, so that should help his preparation as he arrives in Surprise.
*Tanner Scheppers. Don't forget about him. He's a longshot for the closer role if for no other reason than he's stretched out to start. But if someone else steps up and seizes that rotation spot or if the Scheppers is needed in the closer role, it's possible he could fill the void.
The most likely scenario is Scheppers is a late-inning setup man again. He did a good job in that role last season, posting a 6-2 mark with a 1.88 ERA in 76 2/3 innings in getting the game to Nathan.
Who closes for this team is one question that must be answered before spring training ends.
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