With Joe Nathan signing with the Texas Rangers, the Twins are now staring the future of the closer role square in the eyes. When they chose to buy out his option we knew he'd dabble in the free agent market, and the Twins understood that they put themselves in a position to lose the best relief pitcher the team had ever seen. Did they really think he'd sign somewhere else? Did we, for that matter? It's hard to say, but it sounds like Nathan didn't give Minnesota a chance to match his offer from the Rangers, and that speaks volumes.
It's going to be strange not having Nathan as a member of this year's bullpen. He was arguably the best closer in baseball from 2004 to 2009, before he went down with Tommy John surgery. Sure, Mariano Rivera has been the standard in closers since 1997, but for those six seasons Nathan wasn't just Rivera's equal, he may have been just a little bit better.
But now the Twins have to move on. After the jump we'll examine a few options. Who's your favorite?
Perkins is the only holdover from the 2011 bullpen who is anything resembling a sure shot at being effective. This makes him the de facto in-house favorite to inherit the closer role, and the good news is he's the most inexpensive closer the Twins could ask for. I don't mind if he gets tabbed for the job, but whether that comes to pass or not the Twins still need to bring in two or three quality relief pitchers to take the bullpen from a massive weakness to an area of respectibility.
Terry Ryan admitted this week that the Twins are interested in bringing him back, and I have to agree that for $2 to $2.5 million it's not a bad choice. Capps is better than he pitched in 2011. But he's not my favorite, and I'd much rather have him as a middle reliever than a closer.
Rauch, like Capps, is a good, solid reliever who just doens't have the "shut down stuff" that we've become accustomed to in the closer's role. Nathan spoiled us for talent in that position. Rauch could certainly come in an do the job, but also like Capps I'd rather see him in a middle relief role.
As one of the favorite closers on the open market, Bell figures to get multiple years and a great many millions of dollars. In the short term and long term, he doesn't make much sense.
I picked Broxton to step in for Nathan in my blueprint, and I'm still on board with that plan. There seem to be so many teams interested in him at this junxture though, that it sounds like at least a third of the teams in baseball had the same idea I did: buy low on a high reward player. I'd be very happy if the Twins were able to snag him on a reasonable contract, but at this point I certainl don't expect it.
The first of three Franciscos was 36 last season and saw his game change: strikeout rates dropped but so did walk rates, and he allowed his lowest hit rate...ever. If we're taking 37-year old closers on board I'd much rather have had Nathan, but Cordero can probably be had pretty cheaply on a one-year deal.
The Rangers are interested in bringing Frank back into the fold, and as one of the more talented and younger options available for proven closers he won't come cheap. But if Minnesota wants to throw a multi-year, big contract at a closer, he's probably not a bad one to choose. He's not a likely target, though.
Madsen is younger than Bell and Francisco, and has the added aura of being the new closer on the block. Somebody will pay dearly for his servies. He's the best long-term investment for proven closers on the market. Will the Twins pay $10 million a year for him? Probably not.
Say what you want about velocity and changes in his game, but the numbers are still there. It's hard to believe he still isn't 30 years old; he celebrates that birthday in early January. The one thing working in a buyer's favor for F-Rod is that he is perceived by some to have underachieved for the Mets. That, and the fact that there are a lot of proven closers competing for relatively few jobs with contending teams.