MILWAUKEE -- After spending recent months trading away high-leverage relievers for prospects, the Brewers added one via free agency on Thursday by closing a one-year deal with Neftali Feliz that positions him to pitch the ninth inning for Milwaukee in 2017.The Brewers didn't confirm terms of the contract, but a
MILWAUKEE -- After spending recent months trading away high-leverage relievers for prospects, the Brewers added one via free agency on Thursday by closing a one-year deal with Neftali Feliz that positions him to pitch the ninth inning for Milwaukee in 2017.
The Brewers didn't confirm terms of the contract, but a source said it pays the 28-year-old right-hander $5.35 million and offers another $1.5 million in incentives.
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Feliz, who turns 29 in May, posted a 3.52 ERA in 62 appearances for the Pirates last year in a comeback campaign. He made his mark over parts of seven seasons with the Rangers, winning the 2010 American League Rookie of the Year Award and serving as Texas' closer on the 2010 and '11 World Series clubs.
But Feliz underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and missed most of the next season as a result, then spent more time on the disabled list in '14 and '15 with various ailments. In '16, Feliz joined a long list of pitchers to revive their careers in Pittsburgh. His 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings were his best mark since his 31-inning debut season with the Rangers in '09, and his average fastball velocity topped 96 mph for the first time since pre-surgery.
"I think getting the opportunity to close the game, that's what I'm looking for," Feliz said. "The Milwaukee Brewers gave me that chance, and I'm thankful for that. I think it's a young team, but a good team. I think Milwaukee can compete every day."
Feliz did not pitch after exiting a Sept. 3 appearance against the Brewers with what Brewers GM David Stearns said was biceps fatigue. In a telephone conversation Thursday, he said that he is "100 percent ready" for Spring Training, and he has already thrown 10 bullpen sessions this offseason.
"The Pirates took a conservative approach with him, which is often advisable towards the end of the season," Stearns said. "As they got a little bit later into September and Pittsburgh's playoff hopes waned, both sides agreed that it was in his best interest to rest for the remainder of the season."
Feliz did not play in the Dominican Winter League this year, but he did throw for Brewers scouts there this offseason. His representatives at BTI Sports reached a preliminary agreement with the Brewers over the weekend, and Feliz traveled to Milwaukee for a physical exam on Wednesday. The results came on Thursday morning, and the contract was complete.
The arm issue from September has resolved itself, Stearns said, and Feliz will be a full participant from the start of Spring Training.
"We saw some things last year in his repertoire, in his stuff, in his usage, that we thought were positive trends," Stearns said. "We think he threw the ball very well last year. We think there's still room for growth for him. We think he's going to be a very nice addition to the back end of our 'pen."
But will Feliz be the closer?
"He's certainly a candidate," Stearns said, "and the fact he has previous closing experience, which, really, our other candidates do not at this point, it does give us confidence in him."
Before the biceps issue, the Pirates and Feliz's representatives discussed a multi-year contract extension but couldn't come to terms, according to MLB.com's Adam Berry. Feliz became a free agent at season's end, joining a sizable group of relievers with closing experience of interest to the Brewers.
The Brewers have been in the market for relief since trading away Jeremy Jeffress and Will Smith at the non-waiver Trade Deadline last summer, then dealing Tyler Thornburg to the Red Sox in December.
"I would say it's probably unlikely that we sign another reliever to a Major League deal, but not impossible," Stearns said. "We're certainly going to keep talking to representatives to see if there's the right fit."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
With strong strikeout skills (10.2 K/9 rate) and outstanding batted-ball luck (.244 BABIP), Feliz worked around 3.5 BB/9 and 1.7 HR/9 rates to post a solid 3.52 ERA last season. Likely to serve as the anchor of an unsettled Brewers bullpen, the right-hander could help mixed-league teams by compiling at least 30 saves in '17. However, he will need to maintain his swing-and-miss stuff to be more than a one-category fantasy asset. Meanwhile, both of Milwaukee's previous ninth-inning candidates -- Corey Knebel and Carlos Torres -- should be moved off mixed-league draft lists.
Adam McCalvy has covered the Brewers for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy, like him on Facebook and listen to his podcast.