MLB Free Agents 2012: Joe Nathan Signs with Rangers, What Does It Mean?

Zeke Fuhrman@@mellamoelzekeAnalyst IIINovember 22, 2011

ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 26:  Joe Nathan #36 of the Minnesota Twins throws against the Texas Rangers  at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on July 26, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Joe Nathan, who became the Minnesota Twins' all-time leader in saves last August, won't be padding his record after signing with the two-time defending American League champion Texas Rangers.

The announcement was made on Tuesday morning that Nathan had signed a two-year deal worth around $14.5 million that includes a club option for the 2014 season.

Nathan pitched in 48 games last season after missing the entire 2010 season after recovering from Tommy John surgery. Before his injury, Nathan was a four-time All-Star, recording 247 saves in six seasons with a meager 1.87 ERA.

According to Nathan, there were a couple things important to him regarding where he plays next season: He wanted to play for a winner, and he wanted to close games. Nathan also reportedly received calls from 10 MLB clubs and was made offers by six, but ultimately chose Texas. He said Texas allows him to play for a winner, an opportunity to close and a chance to rub shoulders with his childhood idol, Nolan Ryan.

One concern about Nathan, who turned 37 today, was his age. Nathan has said in interviews in the past that since he didn't start pitching until later in his career, he still some velocity in his arm. Nathan, drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 1995, came up through the minors as a shortstop. His .232 average at Single-A Bellingham didn't turn any heads, and management tried to convert Nathan to a pitcher.

Nathan, who didn't want to pitch, left the game of baseball in 1996 to finish his Business Management degree at Stony Brook University. Nathan returned to Bellingham as a pitcher in 1997, and turned into an elite prospect.



Nathan broke out as a reliever for the Giants in 2003, winning 12 games for the NL West championship club. The Giants lost to the eventual world champion Florida Marlins in four games. Nathan gave up three earned runs in one-third of an inning in his only appearance that postseason.

Nathan was sent to the Minnesota Twins along with Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser for A.J Pierzynski the following offseason, and the rest is history.

But that page of the history books has turned, and that leaves Twins fans wondering: What next?

After the Twins declined Nathan's $12 million option, it was a clear indication that Nathan wouldn't return to Target Field as a Twin. A player with Nathan's resume wasn't going to take less money to play for a losing club.

Nathan had a 7.63 ERA in 15 innings in the first two months of the season before landing on the DL with a flexor muscle strain in his elbow. After his return, Nathan had a 3.38 ERA, holding opponents to a .193 batting average with 28 strikeouts. He also converted his final 11 save opportunities.

What the Deal Means for the Rangers


With the acquisition of Nathan, it means the Rangers can move All-Star closer and 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz to the rotation to fill the hole C.J. Wilson may leave if he chooses to sign with another team. If Wilson does not return, the rotation will be Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando and Feliz.

Nathan will wear No. 63, a reverse of his familiar 36, until Wilson makes a decision. If Wilson, who wore 36 last season, doesn't return to Texas, the number will be worn by Nathan.

Reports out of Texas are that Feliz is very excited with the move to the rotation.

But beware Rangers fans: Nathan has a 0-2 record with an ERA of 7.88 in the playoffs.

What the Deal Means for the Twins

It's always hard to see a face of your franchise leave, but it was time for the Joe Nathan era to be over. The Twins entered rebuilding mode by taking the $12 million they owed Nathan off the books. Reports are that the Twins will look outside the organization for closer help, and elect not to move Glen Perkins to the closer role. Twins GM Terry Ryan said the club is considering bringing Matt Capps back, so don't expect the Twins to make a deal with a Heath Bell- or Francisco Rodriguez-type player.

Let's be honest: The way things are looking now, the Twins probably won't be in too many situations with the need to close games next season. With question marks at virtually every position, the Twins should focus more on bringing in another bat, re-signing Michael Cuddyer and bringing in somebody to strengthen the rotation before looking for a top-tier closer.