Neftali Feliz will be Rangers' primary setup man

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Ron Washington just confirmed that Neftali Feliz will be the Rangers’ eighth-inning setup man in front of closer Frank Francisco.
Feliz established himself as an elite starter prospect in the minors, but joined the Rangers’ bullpen for his big-league debut last August and was nearly unhittable down the stretch, tossing 31 innings with a 1.74 ERA, .124 opponents’ batting average, and 39/8 K/BB ratio.
During the offseason the Rangers’ brass seemed unclear about whether they wanted Feliz to remain in the bullpen or go back to starting again. Early on in spring training they talked about him being a candidate for the rotation, but eventually that notion faded.
At just 22 years old Feliz seemingly deserves at least a chance to show that he can be dominant for 200 innings per season as a starter rather than 75 innings per season as a reliever, but because Texas isn’t New York you won’t hear much Joba Chamberlain-type uproar either way.
Whatever role he ends up filling, Feliz’s presence is a big part of why I picked the Rangers to win their first division title since way back in 1999. Their rotation is shaky, particularly if Rich Harden fails to stay healthy again, but the lineup should do plenty of damage and the late-inning duo of Francisco and Feliz is among the most overpowering in baseball.

What happens with all the players the Braves lost yesterday?

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Yesterday’s unprecedented sanctions leveled on the Atlanta Braves hit them pretty hard, but it also turned a dozen players into free agents. What happens to them now? Who can sign them? When? And for how much?

First off, they get to keep their signing bonuses the Braves gave them. It wasn’t their fault the Braves messed up so it would make no sense for them to have to pay the money back. As for their next team: anyone can, theoretically, sign them. As far as team choice, they are free agents in the most narrow sense of the term.

There are limits, however, because as young, international players, their signings are subject to those caps on each team’s international bonus money which were imposed a few years back. Each team now has a “pool” of finite dollars they can spend on such players and, once that money is spent, teams are severely limited as to what they can offer an international free agent. Each summer the bonus pools are reset and it starts anew.

Which, on the surface, would seem to create a problem for the 12 new free agents, seeing as though a lot of teams have already spent much if not all of their July 2017-18 bonus pools. The good news on that, though, is that Major League Baseball has made a couple of exceptions for these guys:

  • First, the first $200,000 of any of the 12 former Braves players will not be subject to signing pools, so that’s a bit of a break; and
  • Second, even though these players will all likely be signed during the 2017-18 bonus pool period, teams have the option of counting the bonus toward the 2018-19 period. They can’t combine the money from the two periods, but they can, essentially, put off the cost into next year for accounting purposes.

Which certainly opens things up for clubs and gives the players more options as far as places to land go. A club can decide whether or not the guys on the market now look better than the guys they’ve been scouting with an eye toward signing after July 2018 and get a jump on things. Likewise, teams don’t have to decide whether or not to take a run at, say, Shohei Ohtani, burning bonus money now, or instead going after a former Braves player. Ohtani’s money will apply now, the Braves player can be accounted for next year.

The new free agents are eligible to sign during a window that begins on December 5 and ends on Jan. 15. If a player hasn’t signed by then, he can still sign with any club but cannot get a bonus. If a player hasn’t signed anywhere by May 1, 2018, he has the option of re-signing with the Braves, though they can’t pay the guy a bonus either.

Ben Badler of Baseball America has a rundown of the top guys who are now free agents thanks to the Braves’ malfeasance. Kevin Maitan is the big name. The 17-year-old shortstop was considered the top overall international free agent last year, though his first year in the Braves minor league system was less-than-impressive. There are a lot of other promising players too. All of whom now can find new employers.