During his entire career with the Twins, Joe Nathan was a testament to Terry Ryan's genius. Francisco Liriano, and to a lesser extent Boof Bonser, have had their moments, but Nathan was the prize gem acquired in what is widely viewed as Ryan's greatest move as a general manager.
Over a span of six years, Nathan was one of the two or three best closers in the league. He was a lights-out force at the back end of the Twins' bullpen, never succumbing to the sporadic down years that plague most relief pitchers in the majors. And Ryan managed to net this elite arm in return for one year of A.J. Pierzynski.
Now, one of the players that defined Ryan's previous tenure as GM is the first to exit under his latest. Last night, Nathan signed a two-year deal, $14.5 million with the Rangers.
The parting of ways makes sense from both perspectives. At age 37, Nathan's top priority is understandably winning. The Twins' chances of being legitimate a World Series contender within the next two years are suspect at best, whereas the Rangers will be a favorite out of the gates after falling a game short of glory this season.
Meanwhile, while team president Dave St. Peter tweeted last night that the Twins were never given a chance to match the offer, it doesn't really make a difference. Two years and $14 million was around the maximum that they could have afforded to offer, and Nathan probably would have required more -- perhaps significantly more -- to re-up, given the realities being faced here.
With so many needs left to address, it wasn't in the the Twins' best interests to make that kind of substantial investment in an aging reliever with a surgically repaired arm, even if he is the franchise's all-time saves leader.
Brace yourself, because Nathan won't be the last Terry Ryan success story to walk away this offseason. Michael Cuddyer is almost surely gone -- another victim of financial constraints -- and Jason Kubel could easily follow.
Then, Ryan will face the tall task of rebuilding the solid foundation he constructed in the early-to-mid 2000s, with limited funds and little in the way of tradable assets. This figures to a multi-year project.
As such, can you blame Nathan for heading south?