In 62 2/3 career innings against the Tigers, Joe Nathan has allowed a 1.44 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and earned 36 saves. Now, he's a free agent. Signing him would kill two birds with one stone: the Tigers would fill a need in their bullpen, and it would take a proven Tigers-killer off the market from other potential buyers. Will Dave Dombrowski get a deal done?
Who is he?
Nathan has been a thorn in the Tigers' side -- and one of the best closers in baseball -- for a full decade. He was traded by the San Franscisco Giants to the Minnesota Twins in a deal that also included Francisco Liriano and A.J. Pierzynski. Originally drafted by the Giants, he logged one save for them in 266 1/3 unremarkable innings. After notching 260 saves with the Twins, he signed with the Texas Rangers prior to the 2012 season. He has continued to defy Father Time over the past two seasons, saving 80 of 86 opportunities with a 2.09 ERA in 129 innings.
Why should we care?
As some were quick to point out in yesterday's thread, Nathan is arguably the best closer on the free agent market this offseason. He will be 39 years old next season, limiting the number of years on an expected contract. Anything beyond two years for Nathan at this point is a massive overpay. There's a decent chance that many teams will shy away from him this offseason because of his age.
Additionally, Nathan has proved that one can recover from Tommy John surgery despite being on the wrong side of 35. He missed the entire 2010 season after having Tommy John and slogged through a mediocre 2011. However, over the past two seasons Nathan has struck out 151 batters and walked 35 in 129 innings. He also continued his homer-limiting ways in Texas, allowing just nine dingers in two years.
Why should we stay away?
For one, he's going to be expensive. As detailed above, Nathan is still pitching like a reliever ten years younger and has showed no signs of slowing down. He also won't command the lengthy deal that a Grant Balfour or healthy Brian Wilson could. Because of this, he will be able to command a slightly higher salary from teams that don't want to commit to a reliever for three or four years. Additionally, just because he hasn't shown any signs of aging just yet doesn't mean it won't happen eventually. A team could look very foolish if they sign Nathan and he flops in 2014.
Will he end up in Detroit?
Honestly, this wouldn't surprise me one bit. Nathan is the perfect reliever to bridge the gap to Bruce Rondon's reign as Tigers closer -- unless Brad Ausmus goes full saber on us with his bullpen management, that is -- and the Tigers are plenty familiar with him after he spent eight seasons in Minnesota. Is he worth $20 million over two years? If he keeps pitching like he did in Texas, absolutely.
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