It's taken me awhile to get everything together since coming back to New York and catching up on all the work that didn't go away while I was gone (sadly ... it never does). Unfortunately while I was too busy getting my life straightened away to focus on blogging, some very meaty topics have arisen:
1. Joe Mauer apparently turned down an initial offer from the Twins and the two sides are still far apart. I don't want to speculate on this too much, there's always a lot of back-and-forth in contracts and we'll see what happens, I don't think Smith and Pohlad are going to just throw in the towel and trade him away in exasperation. A deal will happen, I have to believe that.
2. Nick Blackburn just got guaranteed about $14 million dollars over 4 years. Good for him. Not necessarily the smartest move by the team, IMHO but I don't think it's awful. Just doesn't make a whole lot of business sense. I don't think that through arbitration he would make more than that, so we're basically just guaranteeing his price for the next four years (even if an injury were to occur). Still $14 million for four years of a reliable everyday type of pitcher is nothing to groan about.
3. And this is the real meat of the post: Joe Nathan's "significant" UCL tear. I knew in my gut that something bad happened when I was at City of Palms watching him pitch, he couldn't get the ball over the plate and eventually was pulled. I still kept hoping for the best, but alas, barring a miracle he will be out for this year and more than likely next year as well.
Besides losing our best reliever (and, arguably the best reliever in the American League), this has to be a horrible personal loss to Nathan himself and to the franchise for what this year would have meant for him. Nathan's career saves as a Twin stands at 246 -- a meager 8 saves shy of the team record set by Rick Aguilera. Which means if this hadn't happened, we probably would have been crowning a new Twins record holder by the end of April or beginning of May.
I'll make no secret that Aguilera is hands down my favorite baseball player ever, I grew up as a pitcher, fancied myself a closer, and so Aguilera was my hero. More than anything I want him to be enshrined forever in the Twins record books, but by this point I had come to terms with the fact that Nathan was going to be the face of Twins closers from here on out. It was inconceivable that he wouldn't be. Now, in my mind Aguilera's record will still stand for many more years.
I just don't see Nathan coming back from this if he has Tommy John surgery. Nathan is 35 years old and has already more than likely been on the decline of his career (though that decline would have been slow and steady and likely taken him through the end of his 4 year deal). We will be eating salary for 2010 and more than likely 2011 as well, and there's no telling what he'll be like pitching in 2012 when he starts the season at 37 years old coming off two years away from the game recovering from an arm injury.
The Twins will need to find an answer for the closer's role if they hope to compete, and these next three years would have been spent looking for Nathan's successor even if he hadn't had this injury; it's only speeding up the process for the team. When Nathan gets back in 2012 most likely, chances are we will have a new established closer and he will at best be a set-up man if he's still on the team and can pitch to some form resembling his old self.
Barring some team nostalgia to let him close out just enough 3-run lead games to get him in the Twins record books, I don't see how he's going to make up those 9 saves in a Twins uniform that he'd need in order to supplant Aguilera.
I don't mean to be all doom and gloom. And I'm horribly sad both for Nathan and for the dilemma the team finds itself in. Nathan is a great teammate and is an amazing closer so I would have been perfectly fine with him being the Twins' all time saves leader, but I'm skeptical it's going to ever happen. We'll find a good young player in their prime in these next two years who will lock down the closer's role ... and I don't want to imagine what will happen in these next two years if we don't.