I hate it when awesome young pitchers who started in the minor leagues are turned into big league relievers and then everyone talks about how much better suited they are for the bullpen. Of course they’re dominant out of the pen! almost every pitcher is better out of the pen. They can throw harder. They don’t have to face as many guys. They don’t have to face the same guys more than once. They can ignore their shakier pitches. Making a good starter into a great reliever is no big trick if all you want to do is make a great reliever.
I’ve been particularly worried about this happening in the case of Neftali Feliz, who showed in the minors that, if given the chance, he can be an effective starting pitcher. So, when the Rangers didn’t get Cliff Lee my first thought was “Great! Now the chances of Neftali Feliz starting are better!”
Of course, when they traded Frank Francisco yesterday I thought “Bummer! Now they’re more likely to keep him in the pen!” Thankfully Rangers’ assistant GM Thad Levine was on my buddy Mike Ferrin’s show on SiriusXM last night to clarify matters:
Ferrin: “You lose a key component in your bullpen in Frank Francisco, a big strike out guy, one of your bridges to the ninth inning. Does this move impact where Neftali Feliz starts the season at all or is the plan still to have him go to spring training to compete for a rotation spot?”
Levine: “[Neftali Feliz] is going to come into spring training stretched out as a starter. He’ll get every opportunity to compete for a rotation spot. Probably there’s a little bit more onus now on him really wowing us in spring training to inspire the move but we feel – with the likes of Mark Lowe, maybe Alexi Ogando as the next young up-and-coming power arm out of our pen, and then we certainly have two very strong veterans in Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes – we’ve got the makings of a very formidable back end of the bullpen. And we’re very open-minded to Feliz starting the year in the rotation. He’s going to have to be awful impressive because I think our manager sure likes him pitching the last three outs of the game.”
Well, that’s not really any more clear. All I can hope is that Ron Washington’s love of those “last three outs of the game” three times a week doesn’t trump what’s best for the first 21 outs of the game every five days.
With the 2017 World Baseball Classic around the corner, Team Israel has reportedly reached out to Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, per MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Tournament rules stipulate that a player’s roster eligibility can be achieved in one of several ways: they were born in the country in question or hold citizenship/permanent legal residence there (or are simply capable of qualifying for citizenship), or one of their parents was born in the country or holds citizenship/permanent legal residence there.
For Kipnis, it’s the latter. Kipnis’ father, Mark Kipnis, is Jewish. That gives Kipnis the status he needs to suit up for Team Israel, despite the fact that he is a practicing Roman Catholic. He has yet to confirm or deny his participation in the competition.
Fifteen players have confirmed for Team Israel so far, including Mets’ infielder/outfielder Ty Kelly and free agents Sam Fuld, Nate Freiman, Jason Marquis and Jeremy Bleich. Per MLB.com’s Chad Thornburg, eight minor leaguers will also appear for the team. Like Kipnis, at least three other major leaguers are eligible for Team Israel’s roster but have yet to accept or decline involvement in the WBC: Dodgers center fielder Joc Pederson, Mariners infielder/outfielder Danny Valencia and free agent left-hander Craig Breslow.
Free agent first baseman James Loney has reportedly signed a minor league deal with the Rangers, per FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman. The deal includes an invite to spring training and a $1 million salary if he makes the major league roster in 2017.
Loney picked up a one-year stint and starting role with the Mets in 2016, slashing .265/.307/.397 with nine home runs in 336 PA. While his numbers were down a hair from the .280/.322/.357 batting line he produced with the Rays in 2015, he provided the Mets with a necessary, if underwhelming upgrade over an injured Lucas Duda through most of the season.
The 32-year-old infielder is expected to have some competition at first base, with at least five other candidates in the mix: Jurickson Profar, Ronald Guzman, Ryan Rua, Joey Gallo and Josh Hamilton. Rumor has it that the team is planning on platooning Rua and Profar in 2017, barring any impressive breakouts or injuries during spring training, though Loney could still provide the club with some veteran depth and a decent left-handed bat off the bench.