To quote a certain infamous villain from The Dark Knight, "let's wind the clocks back," but let's only do it on a scale of three months rather than a year, and instead of invoking the Gotham City mob scene, let's instead revisit the words of ESPN.com's Jason Churchill at the dawn of the new year: "The Texas Rangers would clearly like to add a frontline starting pitcher before the season starts, but the club is not short on rotation depth. After C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Tommy Hunter, Scott Feldman could prove to be worthy of a back-end spot, as could left-handers Derek Holland and Matt Harrison, and if newly-signed right-hander Brandon Webb regains his velocity, covering innings won't be the concern."
The date, specifically, was December 31st, and I was left thoroughly unconvinced by what was being sold in the passage -- so unconvinced, in fact, that I spilled my concerns about the state of the rotation in print at the time. Almost three months later, we have Hunter appearing likely to remain on the shelf until late April/early May (at best), Webb's rehabilitation wobbling and his timetable looking more pessimistic than first believed, and Feldman not even registering any blips on the near-term radar screen. Harrison, a pitcher that most first-division ballclubs would prefer to be their No. 6-7 starter, is now the Rangers' No. 4 starter out of necessity, and I would guess we'll see him backed by Dave Bush, whose role in this war of attrition now seems to be enlarging by the day. One can only pray nothing goes wrong with the two pillars atop the rotation.
There have been a lot of words -- thousands upon thousands of words, I'm sure -- written about Neftali Feliz in the last few weeks, first concerning the ideal course of action for Texas to take and then concerning whether or not Texas actually made the right call. People were going to be frustrated (and in some cases angered) by the ballclub's ultimate decision to keep Feliz in his present role no matter how the decision was justified, but in this case the "bullpen > rotation" line of justification elicited much outward disgust, in part because it implied that the Cactus League struggles of Darren O'Day and Mark Lowe were at least partly responsible for pushing Feliz's transition back another year.
What's sort of funny (well, not really) is that present reality doesn't seem to jibe with the vocalized organizational mindset, much less the former belief that "covering innings won't be a concern." Certainly, Webb could return and emerge as a decent mid-rotation option, Hunter could come back in one piece, Holland could discover the consistency his game's long lacked, Harrison could constructively use that purported newfound aggressiveness, and so on ... but how many such positive future events can you reasonably expect, relative to the inevitable sequence of negative events that almost every team ends up dealing with at some point? How much more punishment can the depth take before the door flies wide open for Oakland? The starting point certainly isn't a great one.
Dave Cameron made the point yesterday -- which Jason Parks made before that -- that there wasn't a wide chasm in expected value between Feliz the starter and Feliz the closer, and I concur with that sentiment. However, aside from every other possible consideration in the matter, one thing that can't be neglected is that as the quality of the fifth starter worsens, the sensibility of starting Feliz increases, and there's already a pretty decent argument to be made that the rotation does in fact need Feliz more than the bullpen does -- even if he could only be projected for 140-150 innings of No. 4 starter-caliber pitching.
My ultimate point? To be honest, I'm not sure. This has turned into more of a stream of consciousness than I intended. Sometimes it just feels good to get your thoughts down in print. I guess what I'm really thinking is that that the Feliz decision was just as much a product of the Rangers not truly believing that his stuff/command/mentality were rotation-ready for the long haul as it was about the perceived strengths of the rotation and bullpen. I'm cool with that. And at this point, it's widely viewed as a decision that the Rangers may well regret down the road, but probably won't regret right now ... but the thought is beginning to creep into my head that maybe, just maybe, they'll have cause to regret it yet this season. Because it's March 26th, and the worst rotation in the division is moving in the wrong direction.