Wednesday, October 26, 2011

An Easy Option

This offseason will carry plenty of difficult decisions for the Twins' front office, but they got one of the easier ones out of the way yesterday when they declined Joe Nathan's $12.5 million option for 2012.

The move officially consummates a contract that the closer originally inked prior to the 2008 campaign. Over the life of his four-year pact, Nathan pitched 181 innings with a 2.49 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 206-to-54 strikeout-to-walk ratio. When healthy, he remained one of the league's best relievers, but he also missed the entire 2010 season due to injury and went through some rough patches while working his way back in 2011.

It's a cautionary tale for handing expensive multi-year contracts to aging relievers -- one the Twins will have to bear in mind as they contemplate their next step with Nathan. After collecting his $2 million buyout, he'll hit the free agent market and he should have no trouble finding suitors. Despite a 4.84 ERA this past season, Nathan finished strong and posted encouraging peripherals (8.7 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 1.16 WHIP).

Losing their longtime closer would be a tough blow for the Twins, who desperately need effective arms at the back end of their bullpen. Yet, there are two major factors working in their favor. One is Nathan's age; he'll turn 37 next month, which, in combination with his surgically repaired arm, could be seen as a red flag. Another is that the free agent market for relievers is considerably deep.

Joining Nathan in the free agent pool are names like Jonathan Papelbon, Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, Francisco Cordero, and Frank Francisco. All are hard-throwing righties with a history of closing, and all are younger than Nathan.

With this depth of competition, the Twins' all-time saves leader will probably have to settle for a two-year deal where the total money is close to the $12.5 million he would have made with his option.

So it's easy to see why the Twins bought out Nathan's 2012 season, even though it cost them a couple million. It's also easy to see why they should make a hard push to bring him back anyway.


Josh said...

I would love to bring back Joe Nathan for 2 years at $5-6M per. I have trouble believing he'll do much better than that in this market, and if he holds out for $8-10M per and/or a 3-4 year deal I suspect he'll be waiting a long time.

But 2 years is about right for a 37 year-old closer with a recent major arm surgery, and $5-6M per is worth it to have a RH power arm in the pen whom the manager will be comfortable using to close the game. We overrate closers to an absurd degree, but idiot-proofing the bullpen a little isn't a bad thing either.

I think Nathan would like to stay here, and as long as the twins offer is competitive, I think he'll stay. I think they'll make him a reasonable offer. I just hope they don't go overboard and offer him 3 years $24M at the start of free agency!

Anonymous said...

I'm torn on bringing Joe back. I think he will be better in 12 than 11, but the Twins may need to find a lower cost option than Joe. With so many holes to fill, it may be better to wait and see how the team plays before spending finite resources on a closer on a 99 loss team. If they play well, go get a closer durng the year after exhausting internal options (Perkins).

Mike said...

I have my doubts if Nathan will even want to return to the Twins. I don't think there's any hard feelings on either side, but the guy is 37 years old and hasn't won a WS. With the Twins coming off a 99 loss season and not looking to be a realistic WS competitor next year unless they pull off some very savvy moves, I have to think he'll be very interested in joining another team.

Or maybe he'd love to stay. I don't really know, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was looking to get out, regardless of what he's said in public.

Matt said...

Why would he want to come back?
He's nearing the end of a very solid career and by most accounts, he's still got something in the tank.

Meanwhile, the Twins are unlikely to return to contention before he's ready to hang up the cleats. He can go to a contending team with an established closer and fill a lower pressure role and pitch less innings and stay fresh. He'll lower his injury risk and have a shot at a ring.

He's plain crazy if he signs with the Twins again.

Nick N. said...

I'm not a believer in this widely held notion that the Twins stand no chance of contending next year.

Mike said...

I think the Twins will be significantly better next year than they were this past year. But I'm skeptical that they can fill all the holes they have well enough to have a realistic chance at the world series. I suppose as long as they make the playoffs, they should have a chance, but we'll have to see if they can improve enough to get that far.

If I'm in Joe Nathan's position, I probably don't want to sign with the Twins unless I can see some improvements in personnel, rather than just hoping that Span, Morneau, Casilla and Mauer are healthier next year and that Revere and Nishioka get better.

I shouldn't have said it was unrealistic the Twins contend next year, but I do think it's unlikely. At the end of the year, I saw a stat thrown out there that no team has lost 99 games and then made the playoffs the following year. If any team is able to buck that trend, I would think it's the Twins, given the circumstances surrounding this past season. But still, it's quite the uphill climb.

TT said...

"I'm not a believer in this widely held notion that the Twins stand no chance of contending next year."

Nick -

I agree. But does Nathan? Do Cuddyer and Kubel? If the Twins can't get those guys to sign, what makes anyone think other free agents are going to see the Twins as a desirable place to play?