SURPRISE, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: Neftali Feliz #30 of the Texas Rangers poses during spring training photo day on February 28, 2012 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
So, a day after I do a video about how the Rangers don't need Roy Oswalt, and won't need him unless there's a serious injury to a member of the pitching staff, Neftali Feliz goes to the disabled list with a sprained UCL, opening up all the Roy Oswalt talk in more serious fashion, and presenting a pretty significant issue in regards to what the Rangers are going to do with Feliz going forward.
As Robbie Griffin points out, Feliz going to the disabled list isn't a big deal yet. I've seen the injury referred to in different places as "inflammation," as a "strain," and as a "sprain," but one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the MRI on Feliz's elbow didn't show a "tear." That's significant, because if there was a tear, we'd likely be looking at Tommy John surgery.
Feliz is going to be re-evaluated in four weeks, but might not start throwing for a couple of weeks after that, and once he does start throwing, he's probably going to need some rehab starts before he's ready to return to the major league rotation. So we are likely looking at six to twelve weeks that Feliz is going to be out of action...six weeks would have him back around the All Star Break, while twelve weeks puts us into mid- to late-August.
We heard yesterday from Randy Galloway that Nolan Ryan was asking Jon Daniels about how Roy Oswalt looked when he threw for the Rangers scouts last Friday, and its no secret that Ryan is a significant Oswalt supporter with a relationship with Oswalt that dates back to Oswalt's minor league days. Ryan, I think, would clearly be on board with bringing Roy O. to Texas.
However...the first question to address is, how long would it be before Oswalt is ready to contribute? Andy Pettitte signed with the Yankees in mid-March, and didn't make his first major league start until mid-May, eight weeks later. If we assume that Oswalt were to be signed this week, you are still likely looking at anywhere from four to eight weeks before you figure he's going to be put in the rotation...and the outer end of that range overlaps with the shorter timeframe for Feliz's return.
The uncertainty about Feliz complicates the situation with Oswalt, obviously. If you knew Feliz was done at least until rosters expand in September, then signing Oswalt makes a lot more sense than if you think Feliz will be back by the All Star Break. It may be that the Rangers won't be in a position to make a real decision on Oswalt until a few weeks from now.
The other issue with Oswalt is that, despite his reputation, you aren't getting a TORP. While Oswalt had a great run in 2010 after being dealt to Phildelphia, Oswalt's ERA in 2009 and 2011 was around league average, and he dealt with back problems last season that had him questioning whether he was going to be able to continue pitching. Oswalt's 2.5 fWAR in 2011 was lower than four of the five Rangers' 2011 starters (only Colby Lewis, at 2.3, was behind Oswalt), and he's a year older now, turning 35 in August.
And, of course, Roy Oswalt isn't free. You're probably looking at spending something like $5-7 million to add Oswalt at this point of the season, and I think its a legitimate question of whether the marginal gain you'd get from Oswalt is worth spending that money. Money spent on Oswalt is money you can't spend on another player in a deadline deal, or on a contract extension for Mike Napoli or Josh Hamilton or someone else.
So if not Oswalt, then who? Scott Feldman is getting the start in place of Feliz on Wednesday, and he seems like the best internal candidate at this point. Feldman was very good in 2009, was bad in 2010, was hurt for much of 2011 then gave the Rangers some quality innings out of the pen in the second half of the season, and has been solid so far this year. If you think Feldman can come close to replicating his 2009 season, he's probably the best option for the Rangers at this point.
Alexi Ogando's name has been bandied about as a potential replacement, but there are two issues there. First of all, Ogando faded late in the 2011 season, and as a two pitch pitcher, I think there are legitimate questions as to whether he can be expected to have long-term success in the rotation. If you believe he can continue to perform, going forward, like he did in 2011 for most of the season, then putting him back in the rotation is a no-brainer, but I think that, if the Rangers thought he could do that, he wouldn't have been moved from the rotation in the first place. Second of all, he hasn't been stretched out this season, which means its going to take him longer to transition to the rotation. I think that the Rangers view Ogando as a better fit in the bullpen than in the rotation at this point.
Robbie Ross is also a possibility, and I've talked him up as a rotation candidate at some point, but I think that he's more of a rotation candidate in 2013 than 2012. Like Ogando, Ross has not really been stretched out, and as the only lefty in the bullpen, it would leave a bigger hole if he were moved into the rotation than if Feldman were. It wouldn't shock me if Ross were to replace Feliz, and I think he could possibly have success in that role, but I think he's more likely to be in the bullpen for the 2012 season.
Finally, there's another option...if we get to July and Feliz is not looking like he'll be back soon, the Rangers could make a trade for a pitcher. Cole Hamels and Zack Greinke are both free agents after the 2012 season, and the Phillies and the Brewers have gotten off to slow starts to the season. The additional wild card team this year makes it less likely that a team becomes a seller early, but if either the Brewers or the Phillies are five-plus games out of a wild card spot in July, they could become sellers.
The Rangers definitely have the prospects to pull off a deal for Hamels or Greinke. And the one knock on this team, in terms of being a playoff threat, is the lack of a legitimate #1 starter. If you could go into the playoffs of with a rotation of Hamels, Darvish, Lewis and Holland, with Matt Harrison and a now-healthy Neftali Feliz fortifying the bullpen, that would be a stacked playoff pitching staff that could match up with any team in baseball.