Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Nathan's Middle Finger

For the last two years, we’ve been worried about Joe Nathan’s arm. Last week he showed the Twins that his middle finger is working just fine.

It took me a couple of days to reach that conclusion because Nathan had always been praised for being such a standup guy. He was known as a leader for younger members of the bullpen. In interviews, he did not shy away from tough questions and gave honest thoughtful replies. He obviously worked hard to prepare, exemplified by how quickly he came back from Tommy John surgery at the advanced age of 36. And he and his wife did lots of charity work for the community.

It isn’t clear the Twins appropriately valued all of that. They certainly didn’t value it enough to pay the extra $10.5M to pick up his option for this season. While they apparently gave Nathan a contract offer early in the free agency process, it was likely a starting point, no more. And when the Twins asked him to sign a waiver 30 minutes prior to the trade deadline this summer, the message wasn’t one of eternal fealty.

Joe Nathan

So, it’s not clear how much the Twins really valued Joe Nathan. But that’s also because they were never given a last chance to show it. When the Rangers came calling and made an offer to Nathan, by all accounts the Twins had no opportunity to match - or exceed - it.

Obviously, Nathan isn’t under any obligation to give the Twins such an opportunity. Of course, there’s no reason to NOT do it either – all it can do is drive up the price. He gets to choose when he signs a deal and with whom.

No, there is no reason to NOT do that – unless the player has what he wants and doesn’t need any more. It sounds like that was where Nathan was: he had just received a fair multi-year offer (almost exactly matching our p in the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook) to be the closer for a team that has played in the World Series the last two years. What team could match that?

Not the Twins, apparently. All the Twins had in their favor was…
1. Promoting Nathan from middle reliever to closer before he threw a single game for them.
2. Having him close 260 games, giving him the franchise record for saves.
3. Five trips to the postseason, where Nathan had one save and two blown saves with a 1.83 WHIP.

There was also the matter of some financial commitments.
4. The Twins signed him to a two-year, seven-figure deal before his first game, even though his salary was still completely under team control.
5. Two years later, when they could have offered arbitration, they instead signed him to an eight-figure deal, largely because it included an affordable $6M option year…
6. But they ripped up that option year when they signed him to a four-year $47M deal.

So, just to review:
1. In the first year of Nathan’s big deal, he saved 39 games, and could have made just $6M, but instead made $11.25M.
2. In the second year he made that same amount while saving 47 games.
3. In the third year he was out the entire year with Tommy John surgery. Another 11.25M.
4. And in the fourth year he was given back the closer job, lost it, came back from injury midyear and regained it. He saved 14 games, blew three saves and made another $11.25M.
5. Oh, and let’s not forget: then the Twins paid him $2M just so they didn’t have to pay him for a fifth year.

In our podcast, Aaron Gleeman pointed out that Nathan made $47M to throw two-and-a-half years or 181 innings, which is certainly bad enough. But it’s even a little worse than that, because the Twins could have had that first year at half the price. The truth is that they paid $41M for one-and-a-half year, just 113.1 innings. In fact, had the Twins NOT offered that four-year deal, the only real impact was that they would have needed a different closer in 2009. Which, of course, is the year that Nathan laid eggs in Games 2 and 3 of the ALDS versus the Yankees, ending the Twins season.

One might think that a guy whose career literally skyrocketed with an organization might be able to put away recent disappointments. Or that the recipient of that kind of enormous contract might feel lucky, maybe even a little grateful, especially considering how it turned out. Or one could postulate that the relationships formed during an eight-year run, most of which was wildly successful, might result in a single phone call.

It didn’t. Nathan didn’t leave the Twins the way Torii Hunter, Johan Santana or Corey Koskie did, overwhelmed by a team with greater financial resources. Nathan left because he was done with the Twins. The history, the money, and the relationships were quickly forgotten.

They say great relievers must have a really short memory. Nathan just proved it.


jjswol said...

I guess I don't take Nathan's departure that personally and I see this as a good move for the Twins. The man was a free agent and could go where ever he wanted and he wanted to go to a team that is going to win in 2012, the Rangers will and he saw the Twins as a will not. The $14.75 million he signed for for two seasons is more than the one year $7 million take it or leave it offer I would have made him. I really think that Nathan, the Rangers, and the Twins all came away winners in this deal. But I think that Nathan will find it a bit tougher to pitch in that stadium in Texas than he did here at Target Field.

hoffrey said...

Excellent post. I'm not sure if I've ever had such mixed emotions on a Twins player signing elsewhere.

TT said...

John -

Its business. Get over it.

Nathan was offered a job by a team that has been in the World Series the last two years. The Twins COULDN'T match that offer.

What you are arguing is that Nathan should have set aside a better chance at a championship out of loyalty to a team that just decided not to pick up his option because he wasn't worth the money.

thrylos98 said...

I get his decision to sign for more money and more years with a more successful (last season) team. So no hard feelings there. On the other hand, his decision to not wave his no-trade clause last deadline, it is something that I do have hard feelings for. He did not want to help the Twins. Good riddance... (and I do not get the 30 minute thing. Deals come in the last minute and I am sure that he thought about possibly being traded at the deadline...)

Anonymous said...

I agree with jjswol and TT, I'll happily remember his time with us, wish him luck in TX (cept when he's playing us) and hope we put him in the Twins HOF some day.

Ed Bast said...


Come on. The Twins got exactly what they deserved here. This is an organization that displays "loyalty" to its fans by raising ticket prices one year and cutting payroll the next. They arrogantly believed they could pinch pennies by not picking up his option but resign him for less. On top of that, Texas has demonstrated a committment to winning, while the Twins have demonstrated a committment to mediocrity, aka, "contending", aka, "profit-making".

And, finally, the Rangers give Nathan at chance at a World Series before his career is over, while the Twins do not. For how much we hammer players about being "all about the money", we have an example of a player for whom it's clearly all about winning, and you rip him for it. Sad.

frightwig said...

You've pointed out yourself that the Twins already wildly overpaid for what they got out of Nathan on his last 4-year contract. And now Nathan is 36 years old, coming back from elbow surgery, and would have required the Twins to overpay once more to keep him--at a roster spot where the club really shouldn't be spending that much money, especially if the team isn't a contender. Yet you seem really pissed that he's leaving, apparently without giving the Twins a chance to match all offers on the open market.

I'd say that he had a great run in Minnesota, but this is a good time for him to move on. The Rangers give him a better chance of finishing his career with a winner, and his exit also frees the Twins to spend on better priorities. If he really didn't give Terry Ryan the chance to get into a bidding war, well, didn't he just do us a great favor in saving Terry Ryan from himself?

My best wishes to him. Thanks for everything, Twitchy. Happy Trails.

Josh said...

Wow, this is over the top.

Nathan is getting towards the end of his career and would like to play with a winner. Whether the twins can even be competitive this season is a serious question with or without Joe Nathan. Texas is in great shape to challenge for a title again.

So if the money is right, why wouldn't he go?

Playing the loyalty card here doesn't work. It wasn't Nathan's fault he got hurt, or that baseball overvalues closers to the point where he was overpaid. He was a great player for the Twins and they made a great move in recognizing his ability and giving him an opportunity to become an elite closer.

but I'm not going to hammer a guy for signing a nice contract as a free agent with a contender when his previous team is probably in rebuilding mode.

writerjoel said...

Like to always think that when a player is nursed back into condition while collecting a lavish salary, or any salary, while on the disabled list, they would think that they owe something to the team.

But, still, you even have the case of, say, a low-throwing pitcher than resigned for less than he could've gotten in arbitration, but was cut loose by the organization completely. I'm hoping he comes back strong, like Grant Balfour did, from surgigcally "out" years.

Yet, when players talk about current (and upcoming) salaries, it is often that this is what I should've been paid for the work I already did.

Might be logical. I did great in te past and deserved the $12 million a year then. Now I'm crappy, so let those be my minimum wage seasons.

Is the ring that important? I guess it is as only one team each year gets them. Happily, that award does keep getting spread around to more and more teams.

It is hard to predict a winner. Will Nathan and Thome both make itto the World Series in 2012? Or will the Twins be there, with both hoping that they get a late-season trade to their favorite team for the fall season.

wavedog said...

I basically have the same feelings - we treated him well here - but for the same amount of $ he decided to go to Texas. He commented he admired the guys in the Texas Clubhouse so maybe he didn't like the Twins players anymore. He took his money and ran to a perceived team that has a better chance to win - logical professional decision. Professionally I will choose to root failure on him - particularly if Texas reaches the playoffs.

rdz said...

What is all this talk about a closer. The Twins need their two MVP's to bounce back, solidify their middle infield, need Valencia to return to 2010 form, need acceptable starting pitching, and a overhaul of their bullpen before they worry about a closer.

Ben said...

I believe insurance covered most of Joe Nathan's salary in 2010.

Matt (st.paul) said...

News flash......Nathan is from Texas! Not a factor? Try again.

frightwig said...

Baseball Reference says he was born in Texas, but went to high school in Orange County, New York. I don't know when his family moved.