Robert Murray of Fanrag was the first to report the news, this afternoon, with SB Nation’s Chris Cotillo subsequently following up to confirm this was a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training. Feliz therefore joins a slew of experienced bullpen options who have been signed to similar contracts by the D-backs this winter. Those names include Antonio Bastardo, Kris Medlen and Fernando Salas, as GM Mike Hazen appears to be adopting a similar low-risk, high-reward approach to the one he used last winter. That was not without some success, it must be admitted, with the idea apparently being to handle reliever volatility by having lots of them.
Neftali Feliz is an interesting candidate, whom I was surprised to discover is still only 29 years old. For the reliever has already racked up more than seven years of service time over parts of nine major-league seasons, mostly with Texas, but also in Detroit, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. He was both Rookie of the Year and an All-Star for the Rangers in 2010, when he racked up 40 saves and a 2.73 ERA as they reached the World Series. He’s one of only three rookies in MLB history to have a 40-save season, along with Craig Kimbrel and Bobby Jenks. He then racked up 32 more saves as the Rangers repeated their AL pennant win in 2011.
However, after a 2.53 ERA (175 ERA+) through his first six seasons, Feliz has struggled for much of the last three, with an ERA north of five from 2015-17. Last year, he had an ERA of 5.48 between the Brewers and Royals. Neftali was initially the closer in Milwaukee, but lost that position after little more than a month, and was cut entirely from the Brewers in mid-June after a 6.00 ERA, despite a $5.35 million contract. The Royals then picked him up, and while his numbers were slightly better there (4.74 ERA), an arm injury - specifically, ulnar nerve palsy - ended his season in mid-August, and he was dropped from the 40-man roster by Kansas City at the beginning of September.
Overall, he has a 125 ERA+ over those nine campaigns, with a solid strikeout rate of 8.4 per nine innings. He’s exactly the kind of low-risk, high-reward player we mentioned above, with his closer experience and relative youth potentially making him useful, if he can recapture his early-career effectiveness. The key word there is, as always, “if”. He’ll need to prove that in spring training, where there will certain;y be no shortage of contenders for the bullpen spots.