Wednesday marks the deadline for Major League teams to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players, essentially committing to either go through the arbitration process or settle on a deal beforehand. For players on the fringe, it's a potentially agonizing deadline. For former Rangers closer turned Tigers reliever Neftali Feliz, it's sort of an identity crisis.
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Feliz is eligible for arbitration for a fourth time, having achieved Super Two status while he was closing for the Rangers. The 27-year-old right-hander made $4.125 million this past season between Texas, which designated him for assignment on July 4, and Detroit, which signed him as a free agent a week later. Feliz gave up 34 runs on 57 hits over 48 innings combined, walking 18 and striking out 39 while recording 10 saves. While his arm showed promise, evidenced by a jump in his velocity in his longest season since Tommy John surgery a few years ago, the results were inconsistent.
Feliz has seen at least a $1 million raise in each of the last three seasons, in part because of his career as a closer. He will not be the closer with the Tigers, who traded for Francisco Rodriguez last month to fill that role. Feliz could still have a role with the Tigers, who have not acquired a setup reliever and have found prices rising for non-closing relievers on the free-agent market.
Meanwhile, Jordan Zimmermann's reported free-agent deal adds the Tigers' 2016 commitments to around $145 million for eight players on their roster, and subtracts the payroll space left to add another starter and that reliever without putting the club into luxury tax territory.
That leaves the Tigers with a decision to make. Their options:
• Detroit could tender a contract to Feliz and commit to the arbitration process. If the Tigers decided later to cut ties, they could release him in Spring Training for either one-sixth or one-fourth of his salary, depending on the timing.
• The Tigers could nontender Feliz and let him walk as a free agent, saving money, but leaving another open bullpen spot to fill.
• The Tigers could also reach a comprise and work out a deal for a smaller salary than he might get in arbitration. Detroit did this in past offseasons with Phil Coke and Don Kelly, though Feliz is already at a higher salary than either.
As of last month's General Managers Meetings, first-year GM Al Avila said he hadn't decided. However, they're expected to try to work out a deal.
Feliz isn't the only Tigers reliever facing a decision. Right-hander Al Alburquerque is eligible for arbitration for his second time following a 2015 season in which he set a career high in innings pitched, but he also dealt with higher hit and walk rates while watching his strikeout rate drop. He gave up 17 runs on 30 hits over 23 1/3 innings after the All-Star break, walking 15 against 19 strikeouts.
The 30-year-old Alburquerque made $1.725 million this past season, having avoided arbitration in January when players and teams were scheduled to exchange arbitration numbers.