Former Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz made some headlines last month when he said he wanted to be a closer again. The Texas Rangers also have former phenom Joakim Soria on the roster. This spring, the closer race looks to be more interesting than the dot race.
Feliz clearly had the stuff to be a closer: He had 72 saves in two years. But Rangers’ fans well remember the pivotal Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. Twice the team was once strike away from its first world championship; and twice Feliz failed to deliver in a very big way. Moved to the starting rotation the following year, Feliz almost immediately blew out his elbow. He spent nearly the entire year on the disabled list. Feliz may feel fine now physically, but his mental health is another question. Can he take the ball again in another critical situation without thinking of that David Freese swing?
Soria’s career is similar to Feliz in many respects. Soria saved 160 games in five seasons with the Kansas City Royals before injuring his elbow and missing most of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He was as overpowering as Feliz (two All-Star appearances and one top-ten Cy Young season), but after having missed so much time, the 29-year-old may not be able to regain that same form. On the other hand, there are no lingering questions about his makeup. If the Rangers want someone they can rely on to throw strikes, as opposed to someone who can come in and maybe strike out the side or maybe give up a home run, Soria is the guy.
There are some dark horse candidates as well. Mediocre veteran Tanner Scheppers still doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up, having expressed interest in both starting and closing. Scheppers will probably get a look in both roles in the spring, but he’ll likely end up as a middle reliever or a setup man. Swingman Alexi Ogando is also a possibility, though he seems to be entrenched in his role of part-time starter.
Any of these guys could probably get at least 35 saves with this team. Soria has the fewest question marks and should be able to earn the job.