Monday, October 31, 2011

Nathan may look to Mets in free agency

When the San Francisco Giants used a 6th round pick on a pitcher from Stony Brook University, they had little idea that he would turn into one of the best closers of his generation. Joe Nathan was the pitcher who joined the Giants that season and his college alma mater just named their new baseball stadium after their most famous player. The true story is Nathan is the only member of this university to make it to the major leagues and he finished his business degree there after starting his professional baseball career.

During the course of the dedication of the new baseball field, Nathan was asked some questions about his future plans as he enters free agency. This could be the first time in eight years that Nathan will not be a member of the Minnesota Twins. Stony Brook University is right near the heart of New York City and it is only natural to think Nathan would enjoy a coming home party. He grew up cheering for the New York Mets and his childhood team is in the market for a closer. When asked the question, he responded by saying:
"Obviously, the Mets are going to be on my radar. It's a team I followed growing up around this area. That would be exciting."
The other issue weighing heavily on Nathan's mind as he enters free agency is the chance to win a championship before he retires. The Twins have offered him an avenue to get to the playoffs on multiple occasions but a championship has never been the final result. Coming off of a major arm surgery and a frustrating season, a new team could be exactly what the doctor ordered for Nathan. He said:
"It's all about winning right now. Where I'm at in my career, I just want to be on a club that has a chance to go to the postseason and have a chance to pitch in big games."
The Mets are not exactly a team that will be busting down the door to the playoffs next season. They finished with a 77-85 record and in fourth place in a very tough National League East. The Phillies and Braves will be projected to finish toward the top of that division again. The Nationals have some good pieces in place for the future and the Marlins are moving into a new stadium with more revenue. There might be a chance the Mets finished closer to last than to first next season and that wouldn't be much of an upgrade over the Twins.

There are going to be tough offseason decisions to make for the right-handed hurler who will be 37-years old during the coming season. Depending on how the market plays out, this could be one of the final contracts of his playing career. He has made it clear that it is not about the money at this point in his life and he is looking to be a valuable part of a bullpen with a chance at winning it all. I am sure it didn't help for him to see some of his former teammates, Nick Punto and Kyle Lohse, walk away with World Series rings over the weekend. 

The Twins have been in a comfort zone over most of the last decade because they knew Nathan would be there to shut the door in the late innings of games. When Nathan was injured in Spring Training in 2010, the Twins spent most of the year trying to find a replacement for him. The team brought in players like Jon Rauch, Matt Capps, and Brian Fuentes to eat up some of the late game innings left vacated by the absence of Mr. Nathan. The organization could be in a similar conundrum as they look to revamp a bullpen that had its far share of struggles in 2011.

Nathan set the Twins all-time saves record during the past season but it might be time for these two parties to go their separate ways. The free agent market is very top heavy with former closers who could be making their way to the Twin Cities. Among the closers expected to hit the free agent market: Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Cordero, Ryan Madson, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Capps, and Brad Lidge. This could mean a lot of former closers will be swapping jerseys for the start of next season and that includes Joe Nathan. 

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