Can the Twins offer a competetive deal?
According to Joe Christensen over at the Tribune, the Twins have gone back to work in an effort to re-sign Joe Nathan. Nathan has expressed a desire to remain with the Twins, which is a drastic change of pace after Santana pushed for the opposite through a long, drawn out winter.
Signing Nathan would necessitate Minnesota offering a contract that competes with other elite closer contracts, meaning any deal would likely be worth roughly $12-$16 million per season. Joe Nathan has been better than Mariano Rivera over the last four seasons, meaning Rivera's 3-year, $45 million contract he signed this winter is a likely starting point. Anything less than $15 million per season has to be seen as a relative bargain, since Rivera is the ESPN Baseball Standard for The Elite Closer.
Here's the thing--I love Joe Nathan. Just like I love every other Twins player. Straight up, as a fan, I want him to stay. He's a great player, seems like a really good guy, and he wants to stay.....Minnesotans like it when their superstars express a desire to stay in Minnesota.
But analytically, I'm not sure if it makes sense. If you're going to sell the idea that you're building for 2010, you can't do it half way. We've already ditched three rather large parts--Hunter, Santana and Silva. An extension for Nathan will reach $10 million + per season. For me, even after I include the intangibles, that's money that can be better spent elsewhere...not to mention a solid return on the game's premier closer...which I think Joe is.
A lot of it depends on how much financial weight you're willing to put into intanglibles, into the luxury of knowing who you have in the bullpen at the end of the bench. This is such a young team, and apart from Redmond, Nathan is the oldest guy on the roster...he's only 33. He'd be a leader on this team, and he'd be a good one. He's never discussed the possibility of how much he'd like to play elsewhere, and he's always championing the team. Those things mean a lot.
It's often hard to separate who you're cheering for: the team or the players. Because the two aren't always the same. It's why we get upset when players leave, why we get upset that a commercial advertised the ballpark and not the players, it's why we leverage a player's worth on all levels against the long-range view of the team.
On my end, I have to tell myself that it's only about the team, because I know that I do have an attachment to the guys who PLAY for the team. Only by choosing the team can I rip a guy and not feel as bad about it, because I'm doing it in the name of a winning club and what I think is the best thing for it. I'll always play both sides of that line, but choosing sides makes it easier for me to talk about how awful someone's been playing when in reality that person is still lightyears better than I could ever be. It makes it less personal.
So, should Joe Nathan stay? I'd love to see him stay, but if the point is to build for 2010 and spend wisely, then it's probably best to trade him.