Neftali Feliz: Deal or No Deal?

Categories: Texas Rangers

Neftali_Feliz_Graham.jpg
Photo by Mark Graham
Should Feliz and his 100 mph-plus heater be headed to Arlington or Toronto?
While Ian Kinsler's bat -- the first player with both a lead-off and walk-off homer in the same game -- last night gave the Texas Rangers a momentary pulse, let's talk about the future of a dominant arm down on the farm.

On his blog yesterday, ESPN's Buster Olney made the case for the Blue Jays to deal ace Roy Halladay before the trade deadline if GM J.P. Ricciardi wants to maximize the return for this year's starter for the American League in the All-Star Game. As Olney pointed out, Minnesota balked at dealing Johan Santana at the deadline in 2007, waiting instead until the offseason to trade him to the Mets. Now they don't have much to show for one of baseball's premier pitchers.

Olney broke down the four prospects received by the Twins:

• Carlos Gomez, who in his third year in the big leagues remains a project. At age 23, he is hitting .242 with a .296 on-base percentage. Those numbers could improve, but if they don't, he probably will be a candidate for a non-tender contract in the winter of 2011.

• Philip Humber, who was taken off the Twins' 40-man roster earlier this season after allowing 11 hits and three walks in 4.1 innings.

• Kevin Mulvey, who recently was summoned from Triple-A Rochester, where he went 3-6 with a 3.93 ERA.

• Deolis Guerra, a right-hander who is now 20 years old and struggling in Double-A.

Halladay struck out seven yesterday in a complete game victory over Jon Lester and the Red Sox, and apparently the Rangers have engaged Toronto in discussions about acquiring him. With Ricciardi not wanting to end up like the Twins and other teams showing a reluctance to part with their top prospects in a potential swap, the Rangers could swoop in and land themselves one of the best players in the game, especially if GM Jon Daniels makes Neftali Feliz available. Of course, Halladay has a no-trade clause, which could be a stumbling block.

After throwing another scoreless inning Friday night at Triple-A Round Rock, Neftali Feliz lowered his ERA to 0.84 in the eight appearances since Daniels moved him from the rotation into the bullpen. Feliz, Baseball America's No. 1 ranked organization's top-rated prospect and one of the young players featured in our February cover story, has allowed only one run, five hits and one walk while striking out 11 in 10 2/3 bullpen innings for Oklahoma City. Friday also marked his first back-to-back appearances in relief.

Acquired in 2007 from Atlanta with shortstop Elvis Andrus and three other players in the Mark Teixeira trade, Feliz appears on track to get a call-up to the bigs sometime soon, but manager Ron Washington says "there isn't anything concrete being discussed yet." In fact, the bullpen has been so strong that it would be difficult to push anyone out.

Dustin Nippert would be the likely candidate to be removed from the 25-man roster if Feliz got the call, as he allowed three runs in two separate 3 2/3 inning starts recently and needed 45 pitches to get through two innings of relief last night. But Nippert would need to be placed on waivers, and he did retire two tough lefties -- Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau -- while earning the win last night.

Feliz is only 21 years old with a screaming fastball that has reached over 100 mph, and his command has improved since his move to the pen. Right-hander Brandon McCarthy compared watching Feliz throw at a pitching camp in February to the awe inspired by outfielder Josh Hamilton when he crushes balls in batting practice.

"It doesn't look like he's trying. It kinda pisses me off," he said. "He could throw 110 [mph] if he tried. The way it explodes out of his hand is really something special."

There's no doubt that Feliz has raw talent oozing from him, but if the Rangers are serious about contending this year, Daniels must decide between now and the July 31 non-waiver deadline if the young Dominican flamethrower is best used as bait to land Halladay or kept at Oklahoma in case a bullpen arm is needed.

He could always stay the course and stash Feliz away with hopes of contending in 2010, but haven't Rangers fans waited long enough?

[Update at 3:58 p.m.: Evan Grant speculates that closer Frankie Francisco has been placed on the disabled list after seeing his replacement on today's lineup card, which turns out isn't Feliz or even Warner Madrigal -- it's Willie Eyre, who's allowed four runs in his last three outings for Oklahoma.]


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