One of the current debates going on in Minnesota is whether the Twins should re-sign All-Star closer Joe Nathan to a long-term deal. As much as I like Nathan, signing him long-term would be a mistake for several reasons.
Closers are made, not born, and most of the good ones are easily made. The Major League is filled with closers who were former starters, middle relievers, and set-up men.
The Cubs’ closer for the last few years was Ryan Dempster, a former starter. Dempster will return to the rotation this year and the closing duties will most likely be handed off to another former starter, Kerry Wood.
For a time last year, the Phillies handed the closing duties to the ace of their staff, Brett Myers. A few years back, journeyman Shawn Chacon had 30 saves for the Rockies. Nathan himself was a set-up man and middle reliever when he was with his previous team, San Francisco, and never closed games on a full-time basis prior to coming to the Twins.
The Twins have several in-house candidates to become Nathan’s successor. Pat Neshek certainly has the stuff to close, as well as the aggressive mindset needed to come in and get the last three outs.
Sure he broke down late last year, but if you limit his innings as is done for all closers, he’ll be fine. If healthy, Jesse Crain is also a candidate. I question Juan Rincon’s mental toughness, but when he’s on, he certainly has the stuff to close.
The Twins also have a wealth of young pitching talent in the minor leagues, all of whom can't start. Start grooming one or two of them to compete with Neshek, Rincon, et al next spring for the job.
Want to ponder a truly heretical thought? Consider making Francisco Liriano the closer in 2009.
The final reason to not re-sign Nathan is, of course, the money. To resign Nathan at the going market rate, the Twins will need to pay him at least $15 million a year for at least three years. Why pay that amount of money to a closer for a team that is probably not playoff competitive for two of those years?
If Delmon Young turns out to be the stud everyone thinks he is, wouldn’t the funds used for the back end of the Joe Nathan contract be better used to pay Young in the front end of a long-term deal?
New Twins GM Bill Smith is smarter than this. Look for the Twins to make a token offer to Nathan, who will summarily reject it. If they’re not in the playoff hunt in June, they’ll trade Nathan for more prospects and move on.