Texas Rangers

Eye on Surprise: The Texas Rangers' 2011 Bullpen

Forget missing out on Cliff Lee and Zach Greinke at the front end of the rotation, a huge factor in how the Texas Rangers will defend their American League championship will be who pitches and how they perform out of the back end of the bullpen.

I think the Rangers have voluntarily limited their options here, and I think it's a mistake.

As I wrote at the time, I never understood the acquisition of Mike Napoli. Takes away at-bats from Michael Young at DH and we've seen how that has spiraled into an unhappy face of the franchise. But also, Napoli cost the Rangers Frankie Francisco.

Francisco blew some games last year that, combined with an injury, cost him the closer's job he held coming out of spring training 2010. Nonetheless, the Rangers seemed determined to give Neftali Feliz a chance to be a starter, same as they did with C.J. Wilson last March.

My question is, if Feliz becomes a starter who becomes this team's closer?

As we know Feliz can hit 100 with his fastball and has a devastating curve he can throw for strikes at around 79. But does he have the confidence to throw the off-speed stuff down in the count? And can he consistently throw them for strikes?

I know Francisco wasn't on the playoff rosters, but I still think long-term he's difficult to replace. Think back to the final month of the season and remember the painstaking 8th innings, trying to get the ball to Feliz in the 9th. We're all intrigued by the electric stuff of Alexi Ogando, but I saw Mark Lowe in the World Series and if the Rangers are counting on him it's going to be a long season. Maybe Tanner Scheppers is an answer, but his second half in the minors last year was a disaster.

Ideally, Feliz closes and the set-up role is split in Darrenville -- lefty Oliver and righty O'Day. I'm fine with that. Smells like a recipe for bullpen success.

But with the departure of Lee and the arrival of Napoli, the Rangers are flirting with trouble if they tinker too much.