February 12, 2008

What to do with Nathan?

Good morning. The Twins currently sit around $20 million under the projected payroll for the 2008 season, which some thought would reach close to $80 million. And just think, the $20 million may grow significantly larger (or smaller) as the Twins decide what to do with Joe Nathan. Nathan is set to become a free agent next fall and is going to be making a very low $6 million this season.

The team let three different players slip away with Torii Hunter, Carlos Silva and Johan Santana, and many thought Nathan was going to be the one to go first. On the contrary, he's the only player (on that group) left on the Twins. The team has a few options that they are going to have to choose from with Nathan.

Trade him

Right now, the value for closer's is nothing compared to what it will be come late July as the trade deadline creeps up on teams looking to make a late season surge to help rejuvenate their beat-up bullpen for the playoffs. It's hard to predict who will need a closer at the deadline, or what the Twins would be able to get in return for quite possibly the best closer in the game.

The Chicago Cubs are going into the season with a few players vying for closer role; Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol, and Bob Howry all figure to be the ideal candidates for the job, but Ryan Dempster may not have a spot in the rotation, which could make the teams closer from 2007 their closer for 2008. If Dempster is the closer this season, I have a hunch that they'll likely be looking to add a closer at the deadline. The Cubs have a few players that may interest the Twins including Marmol, Ronny Cedeno, Sean Gallagher, Tyler Colvin, Felix Pie, Donald Veal and Josh Vitters. Vitters is not allowed to be traded right now anyways, as he was just drafted last June. Even so, I think that it's safe to say that the Cubs won't trade him now or in the near future.

Besides the Cubs, the Diamondbacks, Indians, and Dodgers may all be looking for closers come July. But again, that list will likely chance multiple times.

Re-sign him

In my opinion, the most likely of options with Nathan is to re-sign him. However despite the amount of money the Twins may be under their projected payroll, the team is not going to spend money unwisely. Giving a closer excess of $10 million is a big risk if you ask me, and the amount of money that Nathan could likely get on the open market is well over $10 million, probably closer to $16 million. And the problem with that, is Nathan knows his value and he's said that he's not going to give the Twins (at least a large) discount. I think that if he's serious about staying in Minnesota and if he wants a 4-5 year deal, he's going to have to leave a lot of money on the table that he'd likely get elsewhere.

I think the Twins will likely throw a 3-year deal at him, and he'll likely decline. However the Twins are not as set with their bullpen as they are with their rotation which means that they'd likely be more compelled to work with Nathan more than they seemed to with Santana. I think he'll eventually be signed to a 4-year $50 million deal with a 5th year option worth $15 million.

Let him walk

Quite possibly the last thing the fans of the Twins want to see is a great player like Joe Nathan walk away while receiving draft compensation for him. The Twins have a few higher draft picks in this seasons draft, and if Nathan leaves, they likely will next year as well. I personally don't like the thought of him leaving, however if the deal isn't there and the team has even the slightest chance of contending this season, they would probably be best to keep him and letting him walk. The last thing they want to do is have another tirade by a few of the teams most popular players speaking out in the media about their opinions on the loss of a key player such as Nathan. This happened last season when the Twins traded Luis Castillo at the deadline, and players such as Johan Santana, Joe Nathan and Torii Hunter spoke out about the trade and none of them had a good thing to say about it, and all took shot at the front office.

I think they'll try to avoid that this time.

The team has a decision to make with Nathan, and I expect us to know a lot about this situation as the team goes through spring training.

If I made the decisions, if the team is not in contention come July, I'd definitely look into trading him. The Twins have a great building block that they are going to be looking at while we open the new stadium in 2010, so adding another player or two to an already very young core, that would likely be ideal. But again, I do see us re-signing him to a new deal by the end of training camp.