The biggest buzz this last off-season in the Twins bullpen was whether closer Joe Nathan would remain in the Twin Cities or not. Many Twins fans on this site believe that re-signing the All-Star closer was a bad choice given the rebuilding phase, and the improbability that they would make the playoffs.
A lot of fans see other arms in the pen as a better, and less expensive fit for the job. What many fans don't see is that the Twins have a closer among the same caliber as Mariano Rivera.
Last season, Rivera posted a 3-4 record, 3.15 ERA, 30 saves out of 34 save opportunities, and struck out 74 in 71 and a third innings pitched. Nathan posted a 4-2 record, 1.88 ERA, converted 37 saves out of 41 save opportunities, and struck out 77 in 71 and two-third inning pitched.
If the names were blanked out in front of the line scores, it would seem obvious that the better closer last year would be the second one. Yet, the DHL Delivery Man of the Year award was given to Rivera.
Nathan has proven proven that he can be a consistent closer, unlike his predecessors. Former Twins closers LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado both had decent years as closers with Minnesota, but unlike Nathan, their success while with the Twins was short lived.
Hawkins was once a starter, but his lack of endurance as he got older made closing a more suitable option. He had an electric fastball in the mid to high 90s, but was really known for his big overhand breaking-ball. However, inconsistency and the tendency to give up big innings and blowing saves, which forced him to concede his job to Guardado.
“Everyday Eddie” was a good replacement after Hawkins' drop off, because he was a dependable arm and ready to go everyday. But he was never a great closer. Like Hawkins, Guardado had the tendency to give up a lot of baserunners, give up runs, and blowing a few saves here and there.
Some Twins fans began calling Guardado, “Heartbreak Eddie” because he would always cause a tense ninth inning, not knowing whether it was in the bag or not.
The Twins saw a void in the closer role as Guardado departed through Free Agency. They looked to their newly acquired Joe Nathan to fill the gap, not knowing what this setup man could accomplish. They took a chance with a guy that had never closed before, and found an All-Star in the making.
Since the Twins most likely aren't going to make the playoffs this rebuilding season, many fans on this website think that resigning the closer was a lost cause. Many see that the money should go to the new wave of young players to keep them for the long haul when they develop.
However, their logic on the money situation is flawed because of contract and arbitration eligibility.
Many of these new guys, have not had enough service to be eligible for arbitration. Barring a trade, the club owns the rights to negotiate with a player until they have fulfilled their service time, then they can file for free agency.
So saving money by not signing the closer does not really help anything money wise, because they are not able to get pay raises for a couple seasons to come.
Nathan just signed a contract for four years, making $47 million, breaking it down to $11.75 million a year. Rivera just signed a three-year, $45 million contract, without having Rivera type numbers the past couple of seasons.
Considering the numbers that Nathan has posted since he has been with the Twins, and compared to a “Great” closer like Rivera, the contract is well deserved.
Why risk losing a sure thing even though you are rebuilding? With four-fifths of the rotation consisting of guys under 27, they need more seasoned veterans to look up to and learn from.