Joe Nathan – Free Agent to Be

Over the last couple of weeks with the playoffs and World Series going on, official Twins news has been limited.  The most significant story of the off-season for the Twins so far hit this week when the Twins announced that they would not be exercising their option on Joe Nathan. This did not come as a surprise to anyone who follows the Twins closely, as the cost of the one-year option was well beyond his worth at this point in his career.

What is most intriguing now is where Nathan will end up in 2012.  Although the Twins will have a brief window of time following the end of the World Series to negotiate with him exclusively before he becomes a free agent, it is unlikely that they will come to any agreement then as the Twins probably will not be offering more than a two-year deal and Nathan will want to at least discover if he can get a three or four year deal somewhere else.  He and his agent have expressed an interest in testing the free agent market and while there are several closers on the market this off-season, Nathan is sure to generate at least some interest beyond the Twins.

Nathan has expressed a desire to be a closer and that will limit his options as a free agent.  He has also given indications that he is interested in going to a team that has a good chance of winning it all.  As his free agency plays out, it will be interesting to see which of those two desires is the stronger.  I’d be quite surprised if a contending team would see him as their top closer prospect given his negatives (age 37 and only one year following TJ surgery).  If he genuinely wants to finish his career on a championship team and that is his primary interest, he may well have to accept a set-up role.

My guess is being a closer is a higher priority for several reasons, not the least being it will command a higher salary.  If that is correct, Nathan is going to be patient as the process of teams signing free agent closers progresses.

For some reason, my gut feeling is there will be some interest in Nathan but nothing that will overwhelm him and his agent early on.  I fully expect this to be a repeat of what occurred with Pavano last year and eventually the Twins will be the best option for Nathan to remain as a closer and late in the off-season they will work out a deal.

If I were the Twins’ GM, in the exclusive window opportunity I’d offer Nathan a two-year deal for a total of $15-16 million to enter the 2012 season as the closer.  I’d also stipulate a gentleman’s agreement that if the Twins are out of contention by mid June, he would be put on the block for a trade to a contending team needing a closer or the final bullpen piece to get over the top.  Assuming Nathan would want more than this offer, I’d then wait until he had a chance to test the market and see how it all works out.

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