When the Royals hired Dayton Moore as general manager in June 2006, he was the Atlanta Braves’ director of player personnel.
One of the players the Braves signed late in his tenure was a right-handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic by the name of Neftalí Feliz.
“When I first saw him, I thought he was Mariano Rivera,” Moore said Friday. “That’s what I thought. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
That was 2005, and while Moore soon would join the Royals, Feliz was traded by the Braves in 2007 to Texas, where he was a key member of consecutive pennant-winning teams with the Rangers.
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Moore signed Feliz again, this time to a free-agent contract with the Royals on Friday. To make room for Feliz on the 40-man roster, the Royals designated pitcher Chris Young for assignment.
Feliz, now 29 years old, never became another Rivera, a fact Moore acknowledged Friday.
But Feliz, the American League Rookie of the Year and All-Star in 2010, helped lead the Rangers to the 2010 World Series, recording 40 saves and posting a 2.73 ERA in the process.
The following season, he saved 32 games as the Rangers again advanced to the World Series, but they were beaten by the Cardinals.
More recently, Feliz struggled in 2015 while splitting time with the Rangers and the Tigers (6.38 ERA), but found some success with the Pirates in 2016 (3.52 ERA). After starting the 2017 season as the Brewers closer, Feliz was demoted and had a 6.00 ERA in 27 innings this season.
Milwaukee released him on June 19.
“Neftali has a power arm, and he’s healthy,” Moore said. “He also had a lot of success last year. It was pretty easy for us to move forward with this.”
Feliz’s struggles have stemmed from giving up the long ball. In just 27 innings for the Brewers, he allowed eight home runs, which is tied for second most in the MLB by a reliever in 2017. In 2016 with the Pirates, Feliz gave up 10 home runs in 53 2/3 innings.
In contrast, during Feliz’s two best seasons (2010 and 2011) in Texas, he allowed just nine home runs over 131 2/3 innings.
Royals manager Ned Yost said for now he plans to use Feliz out of the bullpen in low-leverage situations.
“It’s a low-risk, high-reward move,” Yost said. “We know that he still has the good arm. It’s fluid, and it’s effortless. (Pitching coach) Dave (Eiland) has seen a couple of things that are small, minor things that he thinks will help (Neftalí) quite a bit.”
Feliz signed a one-year, $5.35 million deal with the Brewers last offseason, but the Royals will only have to pay the prorated portion of the league minimum.
He is pleased to be with the Royals.
“I am very happy to be here in Kansas City,” Feliz said. “I am thankful to God and to the organization for this opportunity.”