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Trading baseball’s second best closer should not be on anyone’s “to-do” list.

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Joe Nathan struggled down the stretch.The high-profile implosion of the Minnesota Twin’s Joe Nathan have many calling for a changing of the guard in one of Major League Baseball’s premier bullpens.

I, however, don’t plan on anything drastic happening during the Twin’s offseason.

Over the course of the last six seasons as Twin’s closer, Nathan has compiled 246 saves without posting an earned run average above 2.70. He’s failed to lock down just 24 saves over that same time frame for a success rate somewhere right around 90 percent. I’m hesitant to say “lights out” when describing a closer other than the Yankee’s Mariano Rivera, but Nathan’s as close to that standard as possible.

Some cite Nathan’s advanced age (35) as why the remainder of his hefty two-year, $22.5 million contract should be moved this offseason. Others believe, despite contradictory statistical evidence, that his stuff is waning and that he may be headed towards his twilight years.

In 2009, Nathan posted the highest K/9 of his last three seasons. His WHIP hovered at its career norm and so did his innings pitched. He appeared in a few more games than normal, but other than that, the only anomaly in his otherwise spectacular year is his HR/9. Nathan gave up seven homeruns in 2009, the most since his insertion into the Twin’s closer role.

Sure, Nathan struggled down the stretch, but one must keep in mind that he’s never been a great postseason pitcher: in eight postseason outings with the San Francisco Giants and the Twins, he’s posted an ERA approaching 8.00.

The fact that he blew a save against the Detroit Tigers in front of one of baseball’s highest rated television audiences and then during a postseason game against the Yankees makes his 2009 seem more like an outlier than it actually was.

And despite his shortcomings, Nathan is certainly far from an “expendable asset,” a sentiment I’m sure General Manager Bill Smith shares.

Moving into the new Target Field, the Twin’s front office is going to need to sell tickets. The best way to do that is to put a consistent, winning product on the field. Most of the team’s expenditures this offseason will revolve around core players like Most Valuable Player Joe Mauer and fan favorite Michael Cuddyer.

Nathan, his history with the team and year-after-year success, needs to be a part of that equation.

The Twins do not have a reliable source of saves in their bullpen. Jon Rauch, the 6’11” righty and former National’s closer, is the most viable option. Aside from him, the team would likely turn to unproven arms like lefty Jose Mijares or righties Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier. Ailing submariner Pat Neshek is not an option.

There’s plenty of big name free agent closers on the market (highlighted by Atlanta’s Rafael Soriano and Mike Gonzalez, Detroit’s Fernando Rodney and Houston’s Jose Valverde), but they are sure to command similar contracts, give or take $2 million, as Nathan.

After that, the Twins would have to delve into the junk pile littered with the likes of Kevin Gregg, Brandon Lyon, and Octavio Dotel.

The Twins don’t want an adventure when they move into Target Field. Fans want a winning product and keping Joe Nathan is one way to ensure that.


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