The last time the Minnesota Twins were looking for a closer was after the 2003 season. The Twins were coming off their second straight American League Central championship but were going to lose their closer, Eddie Guardado, to free agency.
Guardado had been a serviceable reliever for the Twins for many years. His ability to pitch whenever the team wanted had earned him the moniker of "Everday Eddie." If the Twins were going to contend in '04 in beyond, the team would have to find a new closer.
Then came the A.J. Pierzynski trade. The trade is easily one of the most fruitful in the history of the Twins, and it gave the Twins a solution to their closer dilemma. That would be Joe Nathan, the little-used long reliever who came to the Twins in that deal and will leave as the all-time leader in saves for the franchise.
The Twins find themselves in a similar situation seven years later as Nathan left the Twins to sign with the Texas Rangers on November 22. The Twins are now without a closer in their horrendous bullpen from the 2010 season. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the Twins have a decent number of options that they can use to replace Joe Nathan.
Glen Perkins had the best season of his career in 2011. In a year full of doom and gloom in the Twins bullpen, Perkins may have been the lone bright spot.
Perkins posted a career low 2.48 ERA in 65 games. He also held left-handed batters to a .222 average and righties to a .259 average. His strikeout numbers of just over one per inning were also pretty good for a bullpen that needs more strikeout pitchers.
The key to all of this is that Perkins' stuff seems to have more life in the bullpen. While Perkins was a mediocre starter, I believe that Perkins can be an excellent reliever. If the Twins need him to give them an inning, he can do that. If they need him to give three innings, he can do that as well. The Twins realized this and finally solidified his role with the team.
So will the Twins make another role switch and make him the closer? Probably not. Earlier this offseason, Twins general manager Terry Ryan said that if Joe Nathan left, he would seek an experienced closer. While Perkins did get a handful of opportunities to save games last year, he doesn't fit that description.
It's more likely that Perkins will be a set-up reliever for a bullpen that desperately needs an effective arm.
For those of you who have read my power rankings for Twins free-agent targets, you know how I feel about Matt Capps. In my opinion, I feel that he's a fading closer that is headed to the early end of his career. Yes, he's only 28 years old, but his stats are regressing more than they are progressing.
While I might not be too thrilled about Capps being the Twins' closer next year, Ron Gardenhire has a different opinion. In a recent interview, the Twins' skipper ranted and raved about Capps and said the team was bound and determined to re-sign him. After watching Capps sweat and squirm off the mound in late innings, you have to wonder what Gardy is talking about.
It was rumored that the Twins didn't get into the Jonathan Broxton bidding because the one year, $4M contract was too high of a price. If that's the case and the Twins are dumpster diving, the re-signing of Matt Capps would make sense.
The possibility of Francisco Liriano becoming the closer surfaced prior to the 2010 season. Joe Nathan was going to miss the entire year after Tommy John surgery and the question was raised whether the erratic Liriano would do better in the bullpen as opposed to being a starter.
After a spring training of experimenting, Liriano told the Twins that he preferred to start. The result was Liriano winning the comeback player of the year in 2010 (14-10, 3.62 ERA), but looking like the 2009 Liriano (5-13, 5.80) in 2011 (9-10, 5.09).
There is no doubt that Liriano has the stuff to be an effective starter, but maybe this is a case similar to the one Glen Perkins had earlier in his career. A jump to the bullpen would allow Liriano to go out and throw as hard as he can, but there are drawbacks.
Liriano has a tendency to get "over-amped." That's not a good quality if you're a closer. His erratic control is another factor that would go against Liriano. Mix it in with no previous closer experience, and Liriano is most likely returning to the rotation next season.
A sleeper candidate in this race could be Anthony Slama. Slama is one of the best reliever prospects in the Twins organization, but has battled injuries over the past year-and-a half. Slama has nowhere near the major league experience that Terry Ryan is looking for in a closer. However, Slama might be able to get it done.
Slama has 86 saves in his minor league career, including 29 between AA New Britain and AAA Rochester in 2009. He's also been able to keep his ERA down below three in each of his five seasons in the Twins system.
That success didn't translate when Slama got a cup of coffee in 2010, but if the Twins want to give him a shot, he just may be qualified.
Francisco Rodriguez wants to close. The Twins have an opening. The question is, do the Twins want to spend the cash to make that happen?
Rodriguez had a $17.5M option turned down by the Milwaukee Brewers earlier this offseason, so he's on the market. His services will command a pretty penny. Even though he's become a little more erratic than he was at the beginning of his career, he can still close out ballgames.
A signing of Rodriguez would make the transition from Nathan a lot easier for the Twins. However, the Twins don't want to spend money on their closer (ex. Jonathan Broxton). If the Twins change their mind, K-Rod would be a perfect fit in Minnesota.
Once again, another quality reliever finds his way to the free-agent market. Brad Lidge has been up and down his entire career, but like Rodriguez, the guy can win games.
The Twins could use a guy with Lidge's experience. Lidge actually was compared to Joe Nathan a lot in the early stages of his career. He's experienced ups and downs, and he's clearly a battle-tested veteran, who, if the Twins were willing to roll the dice, could solve the Twins' closer dilemma.
It all depends on what kind of offers Lidge gets in free agency. Lidge was taken out of the closer role in Philadelphia and was replaced by Ryan Madson. Teams could be scared off by that, but Lidge is still a pretty effective pitcher.
Even if the Twins don't want Lidge in a closer role, he'd make a perfect eighth-inning guy for a shaky bullpen. The Twins need Brad Lidge, but I don't think they'll make an offer.
Another free agency option would be Francisco Cordero. Cordero has the major league experience the Twins are looking for, and at age 36 it might be a reduced price for the former All-Star.
A Cordero signing would simply be a stopgap for the Twins. In this scenario, the Twins would have some sort of heir apparent and let Cordero close for a couple years until that prospect is ready.
With Cordero earning over 30 saves in each of the past five seasons, it would be foolish for the Twins not to look into him.
The Oakland Athletics are looking to save money, so it's a safe bet that Andrew Bailey won't finish his career there...or even the offseason. This is where the Twins could strike.
It's difficult to imagine where the Twins could offer up enough to pry the 2009 rookie of the year from Oakland, but it would be worth a try.
Bailey is just 27 years old, and he isn't arbitration-eligible until after next season. Even better, Bailey isn't eligible to become a free agent until 2015.
The only problem is that Bailey has dealt with elbow injuries over the past year. Anytime a pitcher has a problem with an elbow, it's a red flag. If the Twins think he's healthy, it would be a good move. If not, it's best to stay away.
Huston Street has long been regarded as one of the up-and-coming closers in baseball for quite a while now. He's never lived up to his shutdown potential, but he's good enough to close games.
The Twins could use a guy like Street, but again it's going to come down to the cost. The Twins' minor league system is incredibly weak, and with what is looking more and more like a rebuilding project in Minneapolis, do the Twins want to send one of their top prospects for a guy whose ERA has hovered closer to four than three the past couple of seasons?
This just doesn't seem like a Terry Ryan move.
In my opinion, this is the route the Twins should go. The Minnesota Twins should trade for Drew Storen.
My reasoning goes back to the last time the Twins were searching for a closer and how they solved it. I mentioned the A.J. Pierzynski trade earlier that sent the All-Star catcher to the San Francisco Giants for Boof Bonser, Francisco Liriano and...oh, what's this? Joe Nathan.
The Twins don't want to spend big money on a free agent. They also don't want to blow up their farm system for a guy with red flags. A trade for Storen fits both criteria, plus he has closing experience.
To obtain Storen, the Twins would have to offer Denard Span. Most fans think that it would be a mistake to trade Span. The reality is that Span is expendable, especially with Ben Revere and Aaron Hicks waiting in the wings. The Twins even have another quality outfield prospect in Joe Benson, who got a cup of coffee in September. The Twins can afford losing Span.
A Span-for-Storen trade would be a winning deal for both sides as the Twins would have the closer they need, and the Washington Nationals would get the leadoff hitter they covet to pair with their great nucleus of young talent.