RHP Neftali Feliz – 28 years old
2016: pittsburgh Pirates
It’s been a long road for Neftali Feliz, who broke in as a 21-year-old and one of the top prospects in all of baseball with the Texas Rangers in 2009.
Feliz earned Rookie of the Year honours in 2010, saving 40 games in 70 appearances and dazzling with his high-velocity arm. Entering 2012, Feliz remained one of the best young relievers in all of baseball, but the Rangers pushed their luck.
Texas transitioned Feliz into the starting rotation and it wasn’t long until he went under the knife for the dreaded Tommy John surgery. He returned in late 2013 and showed encouraging signs in 2014, but the 2015 season saw him completely bottom out in a year split between Texas and Detroit.
It all turned around in Pittsburgh, though (J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano nod approvingly). Feliz’s statistics rebounded and, more importantly, his velocity returned.
Feliz still needs to be viewed as a work in progress in this conversation. His 2016 statistics alone don’t paint him as an excellent reliever, but if they’re viewed as a strong step toward a strong career rebuild, there’s really something to like.
His 10 home runs allowed were very problematic (1.7 per nine innings), and would not fit well in the Rogers Centre. Such a number should normalize, however, as Feliz readjusts to his velocity and hones in his control again. Even with his 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings, FanGraphs valued Feliz as being worth -0.1 Wins Above Replacement.
The right-hander leans heavily on a fastball-slider combination, though his slider now comes at a higher velocity than his younger years in Texas. Improving on that slider and finding better fastball control will be the keys to Feliz reestablishing himself as a high-leverage reliever.
Given his age and upside, Feliz is likely to receive a two-year deal in free agency, perhaps an option year in year two given his unpredictable nature. Will Toronto have the risk appetite necessary to roll the dice on him?
The in-season additions of Grilli and Benoit proved that, in the right circumstances, Toronto’s new front office is very willing to accept risk. Their internal opinion on Feliz is an unknown variable, but at the very least, there is not a complete aversion to these cases.
If the right team adds Feliz, they could catch lightning in a bottle. Maybe.
Likelihood: Realistic as a secondary option
Next Up: Sergio. No relation to Tony.