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Rangers should keep Feliz as closer

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Ken Rosenthal

Ken Rosenthal has been the FOXSports.com's Senior MLB Writer since August 2005. He appears weekly on MLB on FOX, FOX Sports Radio and MLB Network. He's a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Follow him on Twitter.

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Prediction: Neftali Feliz will remain the Rangers’ closer.

Opening Day for Texas is just more than two weeks away. Good luck trading for a proven closer by then and keeping manager Ron Washington comfortable with his bullpen.

It’s a fine pickle the Rangers have created, leaving their best young pitcher confused and their organization divided.

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Washington went public with his desire for a proven closer if Feliz moves to the rotation. Feliz completely reversed his position, saying he wants to start and not close.

General manager Jon Daniels has publicly explained the logic for moving Feliz to the rotation. Some in the organization support the move, major-league sources say.

But you have to believe that club president Nolan Ryan’s first-hand knowledge of pitching gives him an appreciation of what strong late-inning relief means to a club, particularly one with so much uncertainty in its rotation.

The Rangers’ formal position is unchanged — Feliz is the closer unless they pursue some other plan. But with time running out, the best thing for the team to do is what I suggested in my initial column on the subject:

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Keep Feliz as the closer for one more season, then make him a starter in 2012.

Never mind Washington, who told reporters he was “100 percent certain” that Daniels and his scouts could find a closer to replace Feliz. Wash was speaking in code. He meant, “If we keep Neftali in the ninth, we don’t have to worry about finding anyone else.”

Washington’s position is understandable; virtually all managers want as much certainty as possible in save situations. Feliz likely would pitch no more than 150 to 160 innings as a starter, creating other issues.

But a trade? Nice to see Wash playing GM.

Surely, Washington knows how difficult it is to acquire a closer this late in the spring. Even if Daniels could pull off such a move, it would smack of impulse, not any semblance of a plan.

The Rangers had the entire off-season to find a closer. Instead, they went the other way, trading a veteran with closing experience, right-hander Frank Francisco, for a hitter, catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli — a move that triggered further problems with their disgruntled face of the franchise, infielder Michael Young.

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Now the Rangers want to acquire a replacement for Feliz?

They actually are poking around for one, sources say. Young represents an obvious trade chip. But consider the so-called possibilities among closers:

* Heath Bell. Great idea in theory. In reality? Not quite.

The Padres likely will move Bell if they fall out of contention. But to make such a deal now — after trading first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and before even starting the season — they surely would demand an exorbitant price.

The Pads already took a public-relations hit by trading Gonzalez, their best player, who was coming off a 90-win season. Yet, they did not concede, obtaining a number of new players.

Trading Bell would send a terrible message, even if the Padres could replace him internally with Mike Adams or Luke Gregerson.

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* Francisco Rodriguez. Young for K-Rod actually could solve the problems of both teams involved. But Young, sources say, is willing to be traded only to the eight clubs that can acquire him without his permission, plus the Phillies and Cubs.

The Mets are not on his approved list.

Too bad for the Rangers, who actually could live with Rodriguez’s $17.5 million vesting option for 2012 in exchange for purging Young’s $16 million salary for each of the next three seasons.

Too bad for the Mets, who could play Young at second and likely pry cash out of the Rangers to help cover the cost of releasing Luis Castillo, who is earning $6 million this season.

* Jonathan Papelbon. Makes almost no sense.

The Red Sox are trying to win the World Series, and it’s doubtful the Rangers would offer them anyone as valuable as Papelbon.

Perhaps the only hope for the Rangers would be to obtain a quality catcher from a third club to send to the Red Sox. But teams rarely trade quality catchers, especially two weeks before the start of the season.

* Joakim Soria. As Bob Dutton wrote Wednesday in the Kansas City Star, “The Royals show no inclination to trade Soria unless absolutely overwhelmed with a can’t-refuse offer.”

The Rangers are deep enough in prospects to make such an offer. But at that price, they might as well try an internal candidate such as Mark Lowe or Alexi Ogando first — even though Washington would disapprove, even though Lowe has four career saves, Ogando none.

As for other possibilities, the YankeesJoba Chamberlain would be an interesting name if he weren’t suffering from a left oblique strain. The RedsFrancisco Cordero and DodgersJonathan Broxton could be had, but neither is especially appealing.

The most logical closer for the 2011 Rangers is the reigning AL Rookie of the Year for his performance in that role.

The most logical closer for the 2011 Rangers is Neftali Feliz.

Tagged: Red Sox, Royals, Rangers, Reds, Dodgers, Mets, Padres, Francisco Cordero, Michael Young, Francisco Rodriguez, Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Neftali Feliz

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