Banking on the Twins
If anything other than a Caribbean island can be considered a bargain at $5.25 million, Joe Nathan is it. With top-of-the-line closers getting in the neighborhood of $10 million and ink not yet dried on the five-year, $55 million deal mediocre st...
If anything other than a Caribbean island can be considered a bargain at $5.25 million, Joe Nathan is it.
With top-of-the-line closers getting in the neighborhood of $10 million and ink not yet dried on the five-year, $55 million deal mediocre starter Gil Meche stole, er, coaxed from the Kansas City Royals, the Minnesota Twins are paying Nathan the equivalent of Wal-Mart wages.
Is Nathan grumbling about this disparity, considering he's a two-time All-Star who's saved an average of 41 games a season the past three years? On the contrary, he's talking like he wants to stick around Minnesota until he's summoned from the bullpen for the last time.
"I would like to stay here longer in my career, that's for sure," Nathan said Monday when the Twins Winter Caravan stopped in Fargo. "It's always nice when you're comfortable in a city. ... Great team, great organization. We have some young players and a chance to do some things. Any time you have a formula like that with young talent, you could do some things for a long time. Anybody would want to stick around in that situation, regardless of the dollars."
With $5.25 million guaranteed for this year and the Twins holding a $6 million option for 2008, it's easier for Nathan to be picky about where he wants to work than if he was, say, managing an Applebee's.
But the Twins are known
as an organization that at least occasionally keeps its stars at below market price tags.
Kirby Puckett was one. More recently, Brad Radke was another.
"You look at Brad Radke and I'm sure he had some opportunities to go other places for more money, but he and his family loved Minnesota," Nathan said. "It's one of those things that this is where he wanted to be. I'm sure he stayed for less money, but it's not always about the dollars. Sometimes it's about being happy and liking where you're playing."
The Twins are consumed trying to lock up American League MVP Justin Morneau and batting champ Joe Mauer with long-term deals, as well as working on filling out a thin starting rotation with a couple of veteran free agents, so Nathan's contract situation is not a priority. Nathan's agent might approach the Twins about an extension this summer.
In the meantime, Nathan is left to look in wonderment at the massive contracts that have gone to relievers and starting pitchers the past two winters.
Last year was the closers' turn. The Toronto Blue Jays gave B.J. Ryan a five-year, $47 million deal. Billy Wagner signed for four years and $43 million with the New York Mets.
This winter the starters, Meche and many others, got rich. Barry Zito got seven years and $126 million from San Francisco. Vicente Padilla signed for three years, $33.75 million with Texas. Jeff Suppan and Milwaukee agreed to a four-year, $42 million contract. Ted Lilly and the Chicago Cubs found common ground at four years for $40 million.
The numbers were staggering, even to those inside baseball.
"There are some numbers that got thrown around that were just amazing," Nathan said. "You look at what Johan (Santana) is making and some of these signings blew his contract away. I guess the game is doing pretty well right now."
Santana, Minnesota's magnificent left-hander and the best pitcher in baseball, won his second Cy Young Award last season and made $8.75 million. He will try for the Triple Crown this year for $12 million, or just $1 million more than Meche will make from the Royals.
On second thought, Nathan might only be the second-best bargain wearing a Twins uniform this summer.
Forum sports columnist Mike McFeely can be heard on the Saturday Morning Sports Show,
10 a.m. to noon on WDAY-AM (970). He can be reached at (701) 241-5580 or firstname.lastname@example.org