So I had a random thought; Hopefully Joe Nathan is just fine and he's working his way through scar tissue in his elbow after surgery this offseason, but if not, if he needs more surgery and is going to be out for an extended period, what about an option that's not currently on the team? There's an option out there that is getting up there in years, but in his career he has 213 wins and 154 saves. And Gardy might not have a more favorite guy on the team given his "grizzled" veteran status. If you haven't guessed already, I'm talking about John Smoltz. Here's why I'd like to see this IF the worst case scenario with Nathan presents itself:
1) He's still on the market. I'm not sure there's a better guy out there on the relief market, despite his advancing age of 42.
2) Tied in with the above, he's going to come cheap. You figure he's not going to cost more than a couple of million dollars for 2010, which is not unimportant for a team that's already pushing its payroll of $96 million to the limits.
3) The Twins offer him a great opportunity, not only for the opportunity to close once again, but also of a real contender this year, with a much improved lineup and a very solid group of setup men.
4) He'd be a tremendous influence on a young staff, especially a guy like Francisco Liriano, and a talented crop of possible 2010 young, talented relievers like Anthony Slama, Alex Burnett, Rob Delaney, and maybe, if he rises quickly, Billy Bullock.
5) He's been a closer before, and been a damn good one. Maybe the best I've ever seen, with apologies to Dennis Eckersley and Mariano Rivera. Smoltz has been a HOF caliber starter in his career, so it makes sense he'd dominate in relief. But what he did for his 3 years in Atlanta as closer was elite, highlighted by his 2003 campaign when he had an absurd ERA+ of 383 -- you read that right, 383 -- and gave up just 8 Earned Runs in 64.1 innings of work. Not everyone can close, but John Smoltz has certainly demonstrated that he can, and then some.
5) And this is the most important point, but also it's biggest question mark; Can he still wing it? His time in Boston in 2009 was nothing to write home about. Was it mechanical, as he seems to claim, or has the age-decline just finally taken its toll?
His ERA+ in 2008 with Atlanta was still an amazing 164, albeit in 28 innings. In 2007, it was 140, in over 200 innings. In 2009 with Boston? A pathetic ERA+ of 56 in 40 innings. In St. Louis he rebounded to a slightly below average ERA+ of 96 in 38 innings. Not exactly screaming "sign him" but a huge improvement over his short time in Boston. Of course the leagues and division change probably factored into that, as he went from the best division in the sport to arguably its worst. But the improvement was still there. His K/9 was a solid 9.5 and his K/BB was a great 4.44 with the Cardinals. And let's not forget that his entire 2009 with the Cardinals came as a starter. One has to think that he could improve, maybe greatly so, on those numbers as a reliever again.
Smoltz also sported a BAbip of .354 for the year, which is pretty ridiculously high. That means a huge portion of his numbers last year were due to bad luck.
In summation, I hope we don't even need this option. I hope Joe Nathan's right elbow is just sore and he'll be back to being (arguably) the best closer in baseball by April, but if not I'd take a long look at John Smoltz. Yes he's old. He's 42 years old, turning 43 in late May. Not to make a comparison, but the great Mariano Rivera is turning 41 in 2010, and Trevor Hoffman is turning 43. I'm not sure John Smoltz has more left in the tank. I'm not sure he's the same guy that's a sure-fire Hall of Famer. I'm not sure he'd make a good closer for the Twins in 2010 if needed. But if the worst case scenario plays out with Joe Nathan, I'd sure like to see the Twins take a flyer to find out.