Joe Nathan has been the closer for the Twins since being traded from San Francisco to Minnesota on November 14, 2003. Nathan's 24-10 won-loss record while pitching in middle relief for the Giants was very good, but his 4.12 ERA and 1.38 WHIP left a little to be desired. Once he became a Twin, his career took off. In just eight seasons in Minnesota, Nathan has become the franchise's all-time saves leader. His 260 saves are six more than former Met Rick Aguilera achieved in 11 seasons as a Twin.
Nathan did not pitch in 2010 because of Tommy John surgery and was erratic upon his return in 2011. He was replaced as the Twins' closer by Matt Capps in April and was placed on the disabled list in late May when he strained his right flexor muscle. However, after a particularly brutal stretch by Capps in July (10.80 ERA and a .406 batting average against him in his first eight July appearances), Nathan returned to the closer's role and did well.
From June 28 to September 25, Nathan's ERA was 2.63. Opposing hitters struggled mightily against Nathan, batting .170 over the three-month stretch and reaching base at a .224 clip. Nathan also regained his control, fashioning an excellent strikeout to walk ratio (26 K, 5 BB). More importantly, he proved he could be a successful closer in the major leagues, recording 11 saves for the Twins after he returned to his familiar role.
For his efforts, the Twins decided not to pick up his $12.5 million option for 2012, choosing to buy him out for $2 million instead. Nathan would prefer to be a closer in 2012 and not go the Francisco Rodriguez route, going from closer on one team to set-up man on another.
In light of this broken news, the question must be asked. Would it make sense for the Mets to give Nathan a shot as their closer in 2012?
The left-handed starter also led the team in strikeouts (168), while walking only 53 batters. Out of the five starters, only Jonathon Niese walked fewer batters (44). However, Niese ended his season on the disabled list and made five fewer starts than Capuano.
Although Joe Nathan was born in Houston, he grew up in New York rooting for the Mets during his youth. Since Nathan is still trying to prove to his suitors that he is not an injury risk, especially since he will be 37 by Opening Day, he will more than likely not sign for big dollars or a multi-year deal. Rather, he will probably sign a one-year deal for a few million dollars and hope he can re-establish himself as an elite closer so he can get one final big payday in 2013.
Right now, the Mets don't really have a good internal candidate for the closer role. Bobby Parnell tried last season and fell flat on his face. Jenrry Mejia is being groomed to be a starter despite his electric "stuff". Sandy Alderson has let it be known that the Mets may opt to look outside the organization for their closer in 2012. If Joe Nathan wants to come here and is willing to accept a one-year, reasonably priced deal, then Alderson may have his man.
Joe Nathan is pointing at you, Sandy Alderson. Make this deal happen!
I like Joe Nathan. I'm not afraid of his age or his recent injury history. He came back for the Twins last summer and pitched well for a team that was out of the pennant race very early in the season. As of right now, the Mets don't appear to be contenders for a playoff spot in 2012. That would lift considerable pressure off Nathan's shoulders should he choose to sign with the Mets. However, if the Mets somehow break their streak of fourth-place finishes and contend for a playoff spot next summer, Nathan has a proven track record of pitching well for contending teams, as his Twins were perennial contenders during the '00s.
If the Mets are going to compete regularly for the playoffs, they'll need to get younger. They're already on their way to doing that. However, every team needs veterans to guide their younger talent and help them succeed at the major league level. Joe Nathan could serve as a mentor to the younger pitchers while serving as the team's closer in 2012. It's a double duty the Mets should take a chance on.