With the great winter convergence of baseball executives, agents, journalists, and everyone else of that rumor mill-churning ilk still a week away, one finds that the news cycle is becoming a bit, uhm, repetitive. Case in point: last night, FOXSports.com's Ken Rosenthal reported that free-agent right-hander Frank Francisco would "likely" accept the Rangers' arbitration offer -- a morsel of news that I would find far more revelatory in nature if not for the fact that virtually the exact same thing was reported during the middle of last week. Still, though, I guess there's something to be said for corroborating the initial report, but it's clear that we, as rumor-obsessed and stir-crazy individuals, want something of more substance, or (better still) actual player movement.
Until that demand is fulfilled, however, we're left to speculate, wishcast, and dream up our own scenarios, and one of the most popular ones -- and a corollary of the Francisco news -- is this: Neftali Feliz in the starting rotation. Sure, the idea's been out there forever, but it's also been reinvigorated, with the most idealistic version of the plan apparently going something like this: ride Darren Oliver/Darren O'Day/Alexi Ogando/Frank Francisco as your late-inning relief weapons while grooming Feliz as a starting pitcher at Triple-A Round Rock, recall him to the majors when he's "ready," and -- voila! -- you have a probable league-average rotation cog with both youth and upside. The upside is so damn easy to believe in, too, and, as most are well aware, a good starting pitcher is usually more valuable than even a great closer. So, what's the problem?
The "problem" is actually multi-faceted and, to a fairly large degree, beyond the sabermetric realm, and to bring a more scouting-oriented perspective to the mix I consulted resident scouting guru Jason Parks for his thoughts on Feliz's immediate future: "Feliz threw 80 percent fastballs last year. He barely touched the change-up, which used to be his best [secondary pitch]. At this point, his fastball is solid, but his CU is underdeveloped, so it will take time to refine. His transition wouldn't be as smooth as people think it would be. He would need half a season in AAA, if not more.
"I'm not sure it's the right time, and I know his stuff isn't ready for two, three, or four passes through a lineup. Big league hitters will eventually adjust to fastball-heavy pitchers after seeing it a few times. His curve is very good, but how do those pitches pair after multiple passes? Where does the change-up fit in? Development doesnt just happen because the fanbase thinks its a good idea. The Rangers know Feliz's arm. They will make the right call. Fans aren't privy to the right info. Period."
Another of the glaring issues with the Feliz-as-starter idea is, in fact, a thought that was prevalent right around the last time this topic of discussion came up -- the thought that if you wait too long to make a move with Feliz from the bullpen to the starting rotation, then his ninth-inning role will be cemented, and the Rangers, being in win-now mode as they are, won't want to disrupt that bullpen dynamic, much less forgo his value at the major league level while he works on matters of refinement in the minors. This latter point now strikes me as especially important in the Feliz discussion, because even if there is a greater long-term payoff to be had (and Jason emphasized his skepticism with regard to Feliz's chances of becoming a top-of-the-rotation starter), one can argue that the Rangers aren't so ridiculously far ahead of their competition that they can readily afford to punt short-term value.
I suspect at least part of the existing hope for Feliz undertaking a bullpen-to-rotation move stems from C.J. Wilson making the successful transition last season, but this is sort of an apples-to-oranges comparison -- at the time that he made the jump, Wilson had the deeper, more mature repertoire relative to Feliz, and thus was better equipped to power through a major league lineup multiple times. Are the Rangers prepared to swallow hard and dispatch their 2010 relief ace back to the minors for some number of months in the hopes of him becoming rotation-ready ... and even if they are, what happens to the plan if the major league bullpen gets dinged with a couple of arm injuries, or if Darren Oliver and Alexi Ogando aren't nearly as good as everyone had hoped, or if any other attrition along those sames lines manifests?
When good questions beget more good questions than good answers in return, you know you're neck-deep in the realm of the subjective, and it's impossible to know which course of action is the correct one until you're looking back on it several years down the line, but it strikes me that, no, maybe this really isn't the time to move Feliz around. There may never be a truly optimal time, and maybe (certainly?) the game plan changes if the Rangers do something so radical as adding free-agent closer Rafael Soriano in lieu of Cliff Lee and/or Zach Greinke, but the timing doesn't feel right to undertake this course of action now. Consider me surprised that I'd ever actually say that.
And right now, somebody, somewhere is saying, "I told you so!"