Even now, Nathan’s deal looks like a smart investment

Posted on December 22nd, 2008 – 11:09 AM
By Joe Christensen

In studying Cleveland’s signing of Kerry Wood for my Sunday column, I thought about how Joe Nathan’s contract looks in retrospect for the Twins.

I was a proponent of giving Nathan an extension last spring, and the Twins got it done, giving Nathan a four-year, $47 million deal.

I think it sent a great message to the team, that management was committed to winning in 2008, despite letting Torii and Johan go. Nathan had a rough second half, by his standards, and still posted an otherworldly 1.33 ERA.

Francisco Rodriguez took a 2.24 ERA (and his record 62 saves, of course) into a tough free agent market. Several closers were available in a tough economy, and the Mets were the only big-market team in the bidding. K-Rod, who turns 27 next month, managed a three-year, $37 million deal.

Cleveland gave Wood, 31, a two-year, $20.5 million deal, but if he finishes 55 games in either of the next two seasons, it triggers an $11 million option for 2011.

Wood finished 56 games last year for the Cubs, so basically if he does what the Indians are paying him to do, he’ll have a three-year, $31.5 million deal.

Wood has been on the DL 12 times in the past 10 years. Nathan, 34, hasn’t been on the DL since becoming the Twins closer in 2004 (knock on wood). He has three years, $35.75 million remaining on his contract.

The Twins did that contract in a different contract climate — remember, Kyle Lohse got a four-year, $41 million deal from the Cardinals in September — and I still think Nathan was a great investment.

Cleveland needed the Wood signing to match Nathan’s back-of-the-bullpen presence. Wood’s injury history makes it risky to be sure, but at least he didn’t cost the Indians their first-round draft pick. He was a Type A free agent, but the Cubs did not offer him arbitration.

(Juan Cruz seems like a good setup option for the Twins, but he’s a Type A free agent and would cost them next year’s first rounder, so they’re not interested.)

There’s always a risk when teams invest in pitchers, but Nathan paid big dividends in 2008, and I think he’s paying big dividends now.

If the Twins are having this hard of a time adding setup help, imagine if they needed to add a closer, too.

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