Nathan content to wait for offer -- or free agency
MINNEAPOLIS -- Joe Nathan is just sitting in the bullpen, waiting for the call.
"We're in a good spot. We know what our value is. We know what the market value is, and that's what we're going to be looking for," the Minnesota Twins closer said, referring to him and his agent.
The Twins will pay Nathan, a two-time All-Star with 160 saves and a 1.94 ERA over the past four seasons, $6 million this year to reapply his stamp on the ninth inning.
That's if they decide not to trade Nathan at some point. The team has been trying for months to move two-time Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana, who will make $13.25 million in the final season of his deal.
Though Nathan is entering the final year of his contract and 11 months from his first foray into free agency, his salary is a bargain by baseball's standards for elite closers. Last season, the Yankees paid Mariano Rivera $10.5 million and the Mets gave Billy Wagner the same amount. Several other top relievers outearned Nathan, too.
"I think we definitely gave them a really good deal this last time around. I felt I left quite a bit of money on the table, to be honest," Nathan said, referring to talks in March 2005. "This time around, we expect it to be different."
The 33-year-old, who joined more than 30 of his teammates at the Metrodome this weekend for the club's annual fan festival, said he would like to pitch for seven or eight more years. Nathan and his agent, Dave Pepe, have had "good conversations" with the Twins about his status. But there has not been a specific offer made to extend his contract this winter.
"We've just kind of anticipated they'll address the Santana situation first, not that Joe's not a priority," Pepe said. He added: "We do have confidence that the Twins are going to do what's right for the Twins. Joe's going to try to do what's right for him, obviously. If the two paths meet, they meet. If they diverge, they diverge."
Nathan is content to wait. Players typically don't initiate talk about new contracts when they come inside of year of free agency.
"We told them if they want to get something done they're going to have to call us," Nathan said. "We tried to negotiate a little bit, and nothing was really addressed."
General manager Bill Smith said the situation with Nathan is status quo, as in the Twins are not currently trying to trade him or sign him to an extension.
"With a younger rotation, it's great to have a veteran bullpen," Smith said. "Experience in the bullpen is I think a strength of ours. We've got essentially the same group of guys. He was very good for us last year, especially in the first half."
The Twins will be counting on the same production from Nathan, assuming he stays through the season, as well as side-arming setup man Pat Neshek and emerging middle man Matt Guerrier. They'll be seeking bounce-back seasons from left-hander Dennys Reyes and right-hander Juan Rincon. They'll be hoping for a strong recovery by right-hander Jesse Crain, who hasn't pitched since major shoulder surgery last May.
Minnesota has had one of baseball's strongest relief corps for most of this decade, and that shouldn't change with the returning group that Nathan is set to lead into 2008.
If Santana is ultimately dealt, however, an argument can be made that it's not worth paying for an All-Star closer -- even at a below-market salary -- when there probably won't be as many games to close. That's why the door is likely still open for a deal. When the July 31 deadline approaches, relievers are often at the top of the want list for many contending teams.
So for now, the Twins won't trade Nathan.
Not, as Smith repeated one of his favorite lines of the winter, "unless it makes our club better."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press
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