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How will the Twins replace Joe Nathan at closer?

Mar 9, 2010, 11:40 AM EDT

Joe Nathan is likely headed for season-ending Tommy John surgery and suddenly the Twins are faced with replacing a closer who’s converted 91 percent of his save chances with a 1.87 ERA during six seasons in Minnesota.

Truly replacing Nathan will be impossible, because few closers in baseball history have had a six-year stretch that dominant, but bullpen depth was a strength for the Twins before he went down and they now have a handful of capable in-house options to choose from in the ninth inning …

  • Jose Mijares was often billed as a “future closer” in the minors and had a 2.34 ERA in 62 innings as a rookie, but Ron Gardenhire may be hesitant to trust a second-year southpaw who allowed right-handers to bat .283 with a .791 OPS against him.
  • Matt Guerrier has been one of the league’s best setup man in six years with the Twins, posting a 3.41 ERA in 401 innings, but his raw stuff isn’t overpowering and Gardenhire may not like the idea of yanking him from primary (and often multi-inning) setup duties for a role he’s never filled before.
  • Jon Rauch looks like a closer at 6-foot-11 with neck tattoos and has the most closing experience in the group, but even that basically amounts to 17 saves with the Nationals in 2008 and his raw stuff is much closer to Guerrier than Nathan.
  • Jesse Crain was once thought of as a future closer and has the mid-90s fastball for the job, but struggled his way to a mid-season demotion to Triple-A last year and has never been particularly consistent or reliable even in a setup role.
  • Pat Neshek was dominant as a setup man with a 2.91 ERA and 142 strikeouts in 121 innings, but is coming back from Tommy John surgery of his own and just saw his first post-surgery game action last week. As a side-armer his relative susceptibility versus lefties is also a potential issue.
  • Francisco Liriano was moved to the bullpen last year after struggling as a starter, but if he looks good enough to be a closer option the Twins will want him back in the rotation and if he doesn’t impress enough to win a rotation spot they won’t trust him in the ninth inning.

Handicapping the situation is tough, because Gardenhire hasn’t given any hints and the most experienced, trustworthy options also have the least impressive raw stuff. I’d likely go with a closer-by-committee approach that used Mijares whenever lefties are due up, but Gardenhire seems likely to prefer one man for the job and it wouldn’t be surprising if Rauch’s previous closing experience, however brief, gives him the edge initially.

  1. The Common Man - Mar 9, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    Your list matches mine from earlier this morning:
    I think the most likely scenario is that Rauch gets the job, loses the job, and the Twins acquire a “Proven Closer” mid-season. Unless Neshek comes back really strong, that is.

  2. t ball - Mar 9, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    What about trade options?

  3. John - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:19 PM

    What about John Smoltz?

  4. Nissan - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    Can someone help me understand why so many athletes announce than they need surgery at the beginning of the season as opposed to making that determination at the end of the previous season and using the off-season to recover?

  5. Nissan - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    Nissan, Can you tell me why so many people comment on things they clearly know nothing about?

  6. Pete - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    AG, what about Slama?

  7. Michael MN - Mar 9, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    Who Wants the job. The level of desire for a person to go out night after night for one inning with the stress of closing the game is the most necessary aspect of a closer. You can argue stats all you like (and you do need a good pitcher), but it is that Desire that sets the closer above anyone else.

  8. Trevor B - Mar 9, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    I think the twins might be best doing a closer by committee with Mijares, Rauch and Liriano. Guerrier is much to important for a set-up man, Crain has constant struggles and Neshek still needs time to recover mentally. If one of the listed 3 stand out give him the job.
    Or else, yes go after Smoltz, maybe Kerry Wood.

  9. Crsiy - Mar 9, 2010 at 1:14 PM

    Joe Nathan was there to ensure victory. Joe

  10. Knee-San II - Mar 9, 2010 at 1:16 PM

    Nissan # 2 Above…right on, brotha…
    Nissan # 1 Above…Nathan HAD surgery this offseason, you stooge. From “another” network’s website:
    Twins’ Nathan has torn elbow ligament: Twins All-Star closer Joe Nathan has a torn ligament in his throwing elbow….Nathan might get a second opinion Dr. James Andrews, the surgeon who operated on his elbow last October to remove bone chips…
    Now Nissan 1, I guess it’s POSSIBLE that Nathan knew he had an Ulnar Ligament issue AND his Ortho Surg’n knew and they co-piloted a sinister conspiracy to tank Joe’s team by holding out until it was too late to sign another free agent, OR it might just be plausible that Joe may have changed his throwing motion sub-consciously just enough to put pressure in a place not accustomed, and a 35 year old ligament decided it was time to go…
    But I’m with you…it’s a total conspiracy…just like so many before him…

  11. Crsiy - Mar 9, 2010 at 1:18 PM

    Joe Nathan was there to ensure victory. Joe

  12. Adam S. - Mar 9, 2010 at 3:10 PM

    I heard Joe Mauer wants MORE $$$ now. He says he is willing to catch most games AND be the closer. Wow, maybe he really is Baby Jesus….

  13. bball - Mar 9, 2010 at 3:24 PM

    Forget about about a closer. Just do it old school and keep the pitcher in if he is doing good.

  14. Adam - Mar 9, 2010 at 5:17 PM

    Rauch seems to be getting the most love, although I like Guerrier . Bad day for Twins fans…time for them to announce the re-signing of Mauer to ease the pain…

  15. Carl - Mar 9, 2010 at 10:08 PM

    I can’t believe I didn’t think of Smoltz before reading the comments. Smoltz… In a Twins Uni… I guess in a season that will bring Jim Thome in a Twins Uni anything is possible.

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