In a Wednesday afternoon press conference, the Detroit Tigers made their latest transaction official. Free agent Joe Nathan has agreed to a two-year contract with club option to become the team's new closer. The Tigers declined to disclose monetary terms, but CBS Sports' Jon Heyman has the nuts and bolts of the deal.
Joe Nathan terms: $9M in '14, $10M in '15, $10M option in '16 w/ $1M buyout.. $20M total guaranteed. #tigers— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) December 4, 2013
Nathan spent the last two seasons with the Texas Rangers, recording 80 saves in 86 attempts, posting a 2.09 ERA in 133 appearances and 129 innings pitched.
Dave Dombrowski (who also thanked Nathan's 'assistant agent' Torii Hunter):
"Joe solidifies the back end of our bullpen and fills what we identified as a big need on our pitching staff."
Joe Nathan, who will wear the number 36:
"Everybody has one goal in mind, not just to win, but to win a championship. That's why we're here."
Nathan was asked why he came to Detroit:
"If the question is why I would come here, the question is, why wouldn't I? That (World Series) has eluded me. That's what it's all about now."
On being a closer at the age of 40:
"I feel very strong. I feel as strong as I ever have."
Dombrowski has no concerns:
"We've seen many closers in recent years pitch into their upper 30s, and even their mid-40s in recent years, and done well."
Dombrowski also shut down any thoughts of Joaquin Benoit returning to the Tigers in a setup role. He expects Benoit to sign with another team as a closer. Bruce Rondon was brought up as a candidate for the eighth inning role.
New Tigers closer Joe Nathan says Detroit was his No. 1 choice from the beginning. Like Torii Hunter last year. pic.twitter.com/aUzjydL6e9— Tony Paul (@TonyPaul1984) December 4, 2013
The 39-year-old Nathan, a 13-year big league veteran who is the major's active leader in career saves with 341, comes to Detroit with the tag of 'proven closer.' Which is something Dave Dombrowski apparently covets, looking back at his history of signing expensive free agent closers (Jose Valverde, Troy Percival).
Despite his coming off another excellent statistical season, posting a 6-2 record with 43 saves and a 1.39 ERA, and proven to be fully recovered from Tommy John surgery which caused Nathan to miss the entire 2010 season, there is still risk involved when singing a nearly 40-year-old player to a muilti-year deal.The biggest red flag being a loss in velocity, Nathan's fastball averaging a career low 92.2 mph in 2013.
Regardless of the possible risk, this appears to be a perfect match of pitcher and team. Both are looking to win a World Series before their respective windows close.
Tigers fans are extremely familiar with Nathan thanks to his seven year tenure as the closer for the Minnesota Twins. Nathan has never blown a save against the Tigers, and the odds being good this his last contract, he'll remain perfect. For his career, Nathan was 36-for-36 in save opportunities against Detroit, allowing 33 hits in 62 2/3 innings pitches, striking out 75.
Nathan's numbers are just as dominant against the rest of the league as well, with a 57-30 record, a 2.76 ERA and a K/9 ratio of 9.6. He's made six All-Star teams, earning the save in the 2013 game. Despite averaging 38 saves a season since becoming the Twins' closer in 2004, surprisingly Nathan has never led the league in saves, thought he's finished lower than sixth just once (just 14 saves in 2011, the season after his Tommy John surgery). Nathan's 341 saves is tenth in MLB history.
The Tigers designated for assignment infielder Dixon Machado to make room for Nathan on 40-man roster.