The Detroit Tigers have declined closer Joe Nathan's option for the 2016 season, making him a free agent and ending a rocky two-year term with the former All-Star relief pitcher. The club option would have given Nathan a salary of $10 million for the 2016 season, but the team will pay him a $1 million buyout instead.
Declining Nathan's option was a foregone conclusion after he spent the entire 2015 season on the disabled list, facing just one batter on Opening Day. Ironically, that one hitter was former Tiger and Nathan's long-time teammate, Torii Hunter, who struck out on a bad call to end the game.
The Tigers signed Nathan to a two-year, $20 million guaranteed contract prior to the start of the 2014 season, with an option for a third season in 2016. To say that Nathan was a disappointment would be a gross understatement. He struggled to get hitters out almost immediately, giving up five runs in his first four appearances in a Tigers uniform. By the end of the 2014 season, he had 35 saves but seven blown saves that drew the ire of the Detroit fan base.
If matters were not bad enough, Nathan further angered the fan base with dismissive comments and one infamous gesture toward the fans. At the time, Nathan's signing was praised in most quarters because of his proven track record with the Minnesota Twins and Texas Rangers, but the move will go down as one of the worst in former general manager Dave Dombrowski's tenure in Detroit, based on the results.
Nathan, now 40 years old, ranks eighth among the all-time leaders in major league baseball for saves and is second among active leaders behind Francisco Rodriguez. In his 15-year career, he has been an All-Star five times, including the two seasons immediately prior to signing with Detroit. Nathan has said that he's not through pitching in the major leagues, according to SB Nation's own Chris Cotillo.
The Tigers also purchased the contract of pitcher Luis Cessa from Toledo. Cessa was acquired from the New York Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes trade. He posted a 4.52 ERA and 119/36 K/BB ratio over 139 1/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A this season. Cessa would have been subject to the Rule 5 Draft had the Tigers not added him to the 40-man roster.