Smart Business, And Neftali Feliz’s Arm


Before I started following baseball in an analytic sense, I got most of my Ranger information from two people: T.R. Sullivan and Jamey Newberg. When they were my only two sources of knowledge, inevitably I’d agree with them +90.0% of the time. That can either be a good thing or a bad thing. Now that I use a wider sphere of influence, I find myself disagreeing with each writer more and more. I think it speaks to my own thought process — the prism I see baseball through — more than saying I dislike either Sullivan or Newberg. I think they are both phenomenal baseball writers. I’m just smarter than I used to be.

Over the last 7-8 years, I’ve read almost every letter of every article Jamey Newberg has composed. He speaks from an educated fan’s perspective. T.R. Sullivan writes for the Texas Rangers, so he is plugged into the organization (and also not as brutally honest as he could be if he wasn’t writing about the people who pay him).

With all these things said, one thing I’ve picked up on in the last decade or so: If T.R. Sullivan or Jamey Newberg subtly (or not so subtly) hints at something, it’s probably worth keeping note of. Often times it’s a clear indicator of how the organization feels. Let us not forget, Jamey Newberg is also paid a stipend (last reported to be $27,000 a year) from the Rangers. These two writers are funneling the real information by using code to fans looking in-depth.

I believe I first recognized this trend back in 2010; it was August; Cliff Lee was pitching and we weren’t yet in the playoffs.

We were in Tampa playing the Rays; Joaquin Arias was playing 2nd base for some reason. Inexplicably, I think he made two errors — both untimely — and it ended up costing Cliff Lee a victory, and Ron Washington got all mad I guess, and so did Newberg. 

In a subsequent column (from 17 August, 2010), Newberg wrote:

“You know what? I hated that loss only because it was Lee’s game. Otherwise it would have been a massively irritating loss that I would have gotten over as soon as I wrote about it. But the fact that it – once again – wasted a Lee gem, giving him, it seems, as I overreact, another five days to think about whether he wants his next five or six years to be with this team, makes me almost nauseous.

Yes, I know that Arias won’t be here over any of the next five or six years. He won’t be here in October, when it matters. He may not be here in September.”

One week later, Arias was designated for assignment before being traded to the Mets for Jeff Francoeur.

So when I read yesterday’s T.R. Sullivan Mailbox, there were a couple items that captured my attention:

"When Neftali Feliz comes back, what role do you see him taking?— Curtis S., Fort Worth, TexasThe Rangers have made it clear that he will be used in relief this season. Beyond that, it still seems likely that he’ll stay in the bullpen. That’s where he has been successful and, in looking into the future, that’s likely going to be the biggest need for the Rangers beyond this season.With Jurickson Profar having little left to prove in the Minors, is there a possibility they could trade Elvis Andrus for a top-notch starting pitcher?— Patrick S., Kilgore, TexasThe Rangers aren’t going to trade Andrus. He was their starting shortstop on two World Series teams. As general manager Jon Daniels said, the left side of the infield is a strength, and you don’t break up your strengths. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Profar playing a full season in Triple-A."

All right, let’s start with Neftali Feliz. Unless I’ve got my gears all out of whack, this is the first time I’ve read that “The Plan” is that “[beyond that] it still seems likely that he’ll stay in the bullpen.”

Logistically speaking, after 2013 Neftali Feliz will have two years remaining before he’s a free agent. The Rangers have starters Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando — all signed for a sizable time frame. Minor League starters Martin Perez, Cody Buckel and Justin Grimm will likely make up the competition for the 5th spot in 2014.

What the Rangers really want — or really wanted, I suppose — was that Neftali would translate his elite high-leverage stuff into a serviceable middle-of-the-rotation starter, with the potential to become a #1-type guy. Then, a little over a month into the season, he was gone to arm troubles.

The reality is, starting pitching and relief pitching represent the most important and least important roster spots. If Sullivan is correct in his assertion that Feliz will be in the bullpen beyond just 2013, then I think the Rangers would be wasting his value. Elite closers are worth about +2.0 FIP-wins per season; that’s the equivalent production to a #4-5 starter. If +WAR = $, then the Rangers should do everything they can to capitalize on Feliz’s value in 2014 and 2015.

The second topic, which involved the perpetual “Should the Rangers trade Elvis Andrus?” predicament, Sullivan went pretty HAM. He not only said the Rangers won’t trade Andrus, but implied that they shouldn’t.

Again, it’s not that Sullivan isn’t right in gauging the Rangers’ mentality when it comes to dealing Elvis. It’s just that, from a logical, objective place, that isn’t the smartest decision.

Let’s break it down: Andrus has two years and roughly $11.5 million due to him. That’s extremely cheap. If each WAR is worth $5.5 million dollars, then Elvis Andrus’s 4.4 fWAR mark of 2012 theoretically made him worth $24.2 million last year. Crazy, right? Andrus is only going to get better from here, particularly offensively, so his purported 7- 10-year, $17-$18 million dollar AAV asking price is not unreasonable. That’s translates to a range of a 7-year, $119 million to a 10-year, $180 million deal.

The foil to Elvis Andrus remaining in Texas longterm is the top prospect in baseball, Jurickson Profar. If he did not exist, Andrus would have been signed to an extension a terribly long time ago. And with Ian Kinsler locked in to 2nd base for the foreseeable future, there appears to be only one spot available for two players who may be the two best shortstops in baseball five years from now.

People say it’s a good problem to have. I don’t think it is. I think it sucks. Because I really like Elvis Andrus; always have and always will. I tend to think the Rangers really like him, too, or they would have traded the last two years of his contract to the highest bidder in the offseason.

The problem is, smart business trumps good feelings. If the Rangers could get Andrus on a remarkably cheap figure — say 5-6 years at $11-$12 million a year — they’d do it. But that’s a ridiculous fantasy and Andrus (represented by Scott Boras) would be an idiot to accept such an offer. Players kill themselves in the minor leagues just to get a crack at the big leagues. When they make it, they want to stay. When they accumulate the service time, they want to get paid out. The biggest payday of their lives. Andrus deserves his money.

Profar, on the other hand, offers the smart business move, and the reality to Elvis Andrus’s place in Arlington. Profar will make $490K in 2013, 2014 and 2015, and he’ll still have three years remaining after that. If Elvis’s first four years in free agency (2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018) are worth $16 million a year, that means he’ll be making roughly $75 million over the next 6 seasons.

So do you see why the Rangers should trade him?