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Joe Nathan Rumors
In signing Joe Nathan to a two-year, $20MM deal this week, the Tigers secured the best reliever on the free agent market at only 77% of the amount I projected in mid-October. There's a significant age difference between the two relievers, but I'd rather have Nathan at two years and $20MM than Joe Smith at three years and $15.75MM. The way Nathan spoke about focusing on the Tigers from the outset of free agency, it's possible they were able to leverage his enthusiasm to get him on a relatively reasonable deal given the typical save-related inflation.
In 2013 the Tigers' bullpen ranked 12th in the AL with a 4.01 ERA. That figure counts guys like Jose Valverde and Jeremy Bonderman, however, and the situation wasn't as dire by season's end as the ERA suggests. In the postseason, the Tigers' key guys were Joaquin Benoit, Drew Smyly, Jose Veras, Al Alburquerque, and Jose Alvarez. They lacked a good second lefty, but the core group of Benoit, Smyly, and Veras was strong in the regular season, as seen here.
The Tigers decided to move starter Doug Fister at what ESPN's Keith Law termed as "about 30 cents on the dollar" to presumably clear payroll space for Nathan (MLBTR's Jeff Todd looked at the Fister trade in depth here). That deal may have weakened the Tigers' rotation and bullpen, as the pen will lose Smyly but he probably won't be as good as Fister was in the rotation. The Tigers added a southpaw in the deal in 22-year-old Ian Krol, who has 31 innings of experience beyond the Double-A level. Lefty Phil Coke will also return to the team's bullpen after an underwhelming year.
In early November the Tigers declined Veras' $4MM club option in favor a $150K buyout, suggesting they did not value him at $3.85MM on a one-year deal. Benoit would be pricey to retain, with an outlay potentially topping Nathan's if he finds a three-year deal again.
It has been very surprising to see the Tigers take multiple cost-cutting measures. Were they not faced with this apparent restriction, they could have picked up Veras' option for the depth he provides, retained Fister, allowing Smyly to remain in the bullpen, and signed Nathan. Nathan would be replacing Benoit, a reasonable measure, and then GM Dave Dombrowski could have gone bullpen bargain shopping in January.
Keep in mind that the Tigers also saved $76MM in the Prince Fielder trade. Though we haven't seen this in recent years from the Tigers, it seems clear that most of this offseason's moves were driven by financial constraints. As surprising as that is, I can accept that no team has an unlimited amount of money to spend. But if you decide Fister is the piece you're going to move, and your bullpen needs tons of work, how do you trade him and not get back even one established, controllable reliever? As it stands, the Tigers do not have anyone reliable to slot in after Nathan, so Dombrowski will likely continue tinkering with his bullpen.
THURSDAY: Nathan's contract contains a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block deals to five clubs, according to Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish (Twitter link).
WEDNESDAY, 4:02pm: Nathan signed a two-year, $20MM contract with a $10MM option for 2016, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Nathan will earn $9MM in 2014, $10MM in 2015 and has a $1MM buyout on his option.
2:38pm: There won't be a repeat of 2013's early-season closer carousel for the Tigers in 2014. Detroit officially announced today that it has signed one of baseball's elite closers — Joe Nathan — to a two-year contract with a club option for a third year. The contract is reportedly in the $20MM range. Nathan is represented by agent Dave Pepe of Pro Agents, Inc.
The 39-year-old Nathan is coming off one of the finest seasons of his storied career, having pitched to a 1.39 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 64 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2013. Nathan added 43 more saves to his resume, tying him for 10th all-time with the legendary Rollie Fingers at 341. In his free agent profile of Nathan six weeks ago, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicted that the active Major League saves leader would and a two-year deal worth $26MM.
Nathan will fill a void that the Tigers were unable to fill early in the 2013 season when Bruce Rondon, Phil Coke and Jose Valverde were unable to solidify the ninth inning. Though this year's free agent market is rife with closer types — Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit, Edward Mujica, Jose Veras, Kevin Gregg, Chris Perez all saved 20 or more games — Nathan appears to be the first domino to fall. Former Giants closer Brian Wilson is also reportedly nearing a deal to return to the Dodgers, suggesting that the relief market could pick up in the near future.
It's already been a highly active offseason for Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski. In addition to the Nathan deal, he's pulled off a blockbuster trade by flipping Prince Fielder (and $30MM) to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, and he's also traded Doug Fister to the Nationals for Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.
Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports first reported that a deal was close (on Twitter). Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reported that the two sides were in agreement on a two-year deal (Twitter link), and Rosenthal added that it was in the $20MM range (on Twitter).
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
The 39-year-old Nathan is coming off one of the finest seasons of his storied career, having pitched to a 1.39 ERA with 10.2 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 in 64 2/3 innings with the Rangers in 2013. Nathan added 43 more saves to his resume, tying him for 10th all-time with the legendary Rollie Fingers at 341. Not surprisingly, he is the active Major League leader in saves.
The Tigers elected not to add a closer last offseason and saw an early carousel that included the likes of Phil Coke, Bruce Rondon and a returning Jose Valverde before Joaquin Benoit finally solidified the position.
The early struggles by Detroit's bullpen and the unit's postseason tribulations led many to predict that they'd sign one of the top free agents available, and Nathan is arguably the best available on the market. Detroit has also been linked to Brian Wilson recently.
For his latest Rumblings & Grumblings piece, ESPN's Jayson Stark spoke with several executives about the ultimate destination of Robinson Cano. One NL executive said: "I keep hearing there's no interest. I don't believe it." Stark agrees and hypothesizes that the lack of a market for Cano has been well-crafted by the Yankees leaking their own seven-year, $168MM offer in reaction to Cano's $310MM demand. One AL exec told Stark: "If you had a situation where everyone remained objective and everyone played it smart and you had teams that thought they could sign Robinson Cano for $120 million, you'd probably have five or six teams in on it. Then you'd set $120 million as the starting point and start the bidding, and see how much higher it gets." Stark feels that by starting the bar high, the Yankees have set the early market to a market of one. The same NL exec who didn't buy the lack of interest said that eventually teams who are chasing Jacoby Ellsbury, Shin-Soo Choo and Brian McCann will say, "Wait a second. Cano's a much better player than those guys," and change direction. Stark runs down some possible late-emerging suitors. Here's more from his excellent piece…
- Stark reports an unknown wrinkle in the David Price trade saga. Price signed a one-year, $10.1125MM contract to avoid arbitration last January, but $5MM of that sum comes in the form of a signing bonus that is deferred to next year. While it was presented as a tax-related issue at the time, Stark notes that the Rays can use it as leverage in a trade, agreeing to take a slightly lesser package if the acquiring team pays that additional $5MM.
- The Phillies upped the ante and guaranteed Carlos Ruiz a third year because they were convinced that he would sign with the Red Sox if they didn't. The Phils looked hard at alternatives but were highly uncomfortable with the prices on other targets. For that reason, other teams haven't been as critical of the deal, though they've all offered high praise to Ruiz's agent, Marc Kligman.
- The Ruiz contract helps both McCann and particularly Jarrod Saltalamacchia, agents and an AL executive told Stark. Stark has heard that one reason the Red Sox were so interested in Ruiz was that they don't want to commit more than two years to a catcher, suggesting that Saltalamacchia is a goner in Boston.
- The Tigers' search for a closer has begun to lean more in favor of Brian Wilson than Joe Nathan, but Wilson's agent, Dan Lozano, may want to wait out the market, which isn't GM Dave Dombrowski's style, Stark points out.
- Bartolo Colon and agent Adam Katz aren't rushing into one-year contracts as they wait to see if someone will tack on a second guaranteed year in the wake of Tim Hudson's two-year, $23MM deal.
The Mets are currently dealing with sticker shock when looking at free agent demands, tweets Mike Puma of the New York Post. One example, says Puma, is Jhonny Peralta, whom the Mets initially believed they could land on a two-year deal. Peralta, however, is said to be seeking more than $45MM on at least a three-year deal. Here's more out of the Big Apple…
- The Mets are more interested in Phil Hughes than they are Bronson Arroyo, Puma tweets. That would make sense if they're unhappy with free agent prices, as Arroyo figures to command a healthy two-year deal at minimum and could get to three years.
- Mets GM Sandy Alderson said that the 2014 payroll will not be lower than the 2013 mark of $87MM, according to Newsday's Marc Carig (on Twitter).
- Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News tweets that the Yankees are interested in Joe Nathan but are addressing their more pressing needs first, such as their pursuit of Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann.
Joe Nathan agreed with Jim Bowden's suggestions of the Tigers, Angels and Yankees as good fits for his services, the veteran closer told Bowden and Casey Stern on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. Nathan said that finding a winning team was more important to him than location, he's prepared to be patient and see how his market develops, and he revealed that his old teammate Torii Hunter was trying to recruit him to come to Detroit. Tip of the cap to MLB.com's Jason Beck for providing an audio link to Nathan's interview and a partial transcript.
Here's some more news as we wrap up a busy day around baseball…
- The Phillies have a long-standing interest in Peter Bourjos and would love to have him, but they don't have the young pitching the Angels would want back in a trade, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports. The Phils would have to get a third team involved to work out a deal, or forget Bourjos entirely and focus on other outfield candidates; Rosenthal suggests Grady Sizemore as a bench possibility.
- Also from Rosenthal, rival scouts figure the Yankees will make a big push to sign international talent since they're already over the bonus pool limit for international signings and will be penalized anyway. It's worth noting that Joe Pawlikowski of the River Ave Blues blog believes Rosenthal may have miscalculated some figures and is actually saying the Yankees will overspend during the next international signing period, which opens on July 2, 2014.
- MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez lists 10 teams who could possibly be trade partners for the Angels in their search for young, controllable pitching.
- Ruben Tejada's possible grievance against the Mets is just the latest sign of strained relations between the shortstop and the team, and Andy Martino of the New York Daily News figures the two sides are close to parting ways.
- The Rays plan to rotate Wil Myers, Desmond Jennings, Matt Joyce and David DeJesus at DH this season, a move that will help keep the players fresh and also allow the club to save money on signing a designated hitter, Roger Mooney of the Tampa Tribune writes.
- Five teams have shown interest in Yuniesky Betancourt as a second or third baseman, agent Alex Esteban tells Sportsnet.ca's Ben Nicholson-Smith (Twitter link).
- The White Sox aren't used to picking as high as third overall in the amateur draft, MLB.com's Scott Merkin writes, but the club is hoping to use the high pick and larger draft bonus pool to fuel GM Rick Hahn's plan to restock the farm system.
The Tigers and closer Joe Nathan are mutually interested in each other, as Nathan has Detroit "high on his wish list" of free agent destinations, Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports reports (via Twitter). MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicted Nathan would sign with the Tigers this winter and indeed the two sides seem like natural fits.
Detroit is eager to find a solution to its closing issues, and they're one of the few teams that could afford to give a multiyear deal worth a projected $26MM to a closer who will be 39 years old on Opening Day. Still, that price could be worth it for Nathan, who fully recovered from Tommy John surgery in 2010 to post two elite seasons for the Rangers in 2012-13. No active pitcher has saved more games than Nathan (341), which helps him stay out in a free agent class that is crowded with late-game closing options.
Along with the Tigers, Dierkes projected the Yankees, Angels, Orioles and Indians as teams who could possibly vie for Nathan's services this offseason. The Orioles and Yankees have closing options already present in Jim Johnson and David Robertson, respectively, while it can be argued that the Tigers are closer to contention than the Indians or Angels, making them a more attractive landing spot for Nathan.
- Curtis Granderson has drawn "preliminary interest" from the Mets, two sources tell Martino, though the depth of that interest will depend on how Granderson's market develops. "When it comes to New York, this much is fair to say: [Granderson] is more likely to be a Met than a Yankee in 2014," Martino writes.
- Carlos Beltran "would love to come back to New York, but I think he’d like Boston, too,” a friend of the veteran slugger tells Martino. Both the Yankees and Red Sox have been rumored to be interested in Beltran's services.
- The Mets have considered Andre Ethier as a trade option since at least last December, while the Dodgers have been open to dealing the outfielder since at least summer of 2012, rival executives say. That timing is odd given that the Dodgers only signed Ethier to his current five-year, $85MM contract in June 2012. There is no chance, Martino writes, that the Mets would move Zack Wheeler or Noah Syndergaard for Ethier, though Martino speculates that the team could be more open to moving right-handed pitching prospect Rafael Montero.
- Kevin Youkilis "is 100% healthy" and recovered from back surgery, agent Joe Bick says.
- Joe Nathan is expected to draw strong interest this winter but agent Dave Pepe said he had "nothing to report" thus far about his client's free agency. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes predicts that Nathan will find a two-year, $26MM contract this offseason.
The Padres will look for a lefty reliever and a left-handed hitter this offseason, GM Josh Byrnes says (via ESPN's Jim Bowden on Twitter). In addition, the Padres hope to get better health from their players next season. The Padres have recently been connected to Mark Trumbo, who is right-handed. There are a few good lefty relief options on the free agent market, J.P. Howell, Manny Parra and former Padre Oliver Perez among them. Here are more notes from the West divisions.
- The Giants officially declined Ryan Vogelsong's 2014 option today, and while that doesn't mean he won't return, both sides are exploring other possibilities, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reports. "I don’t think today necessarily eliminated the chances of him coming back," says assistant GM Bobby Evans. "But it does put a step back in the process, obviously, as he looks at other options. He could find something very appealing, or we could find something that doesn’t filter back to him." There are currently no talks between the two parties.
- After declining his end of a $9MM mutual option for 2014, Joe Nathan says he doesn't expect to be back with the Rangers, writes Richard Durrett of ESPNDallas.com. The veteran closer acknowledged that he's seeking a two-year deal and doesn't sense much interest from Texas. MLBTR's Tim Dierkes sees Nathan landing something in the neighborhood of a two-year, $26MM deal this winter.
- Major League Baseball intimated to Oakland Coliseum officials that they will help the Athletics move across the bay and play at the rival Giants' AT&T Park in San Francisco if they don't come to terms on a new short-term lease for the team, sources tell Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross of the San Francisco Chronicle. Coliseum brass are pushing for a long-term lease renewal, while the A's want some flexibility in the event that they can get a ballpark deal done in San Jose.
Zach Links contributed to this post.
Free agents are not allowed to negotiate with all 30 MLB clubs until 11:01 pm (CT) Monday, but agent Scott Boras says his phone was ringing off the hook regarding Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew within hours of the Red Sox winning the World Series, reports Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe. The Yankees will be the most interesting team during free agency, according to Cafardo, but will be hamstrung until a decision is made on Alex Rodriguez's appeal. Cafardo also lists the Phillies, Tigers, Giants, Orioles, Blue Jays, and Rangers as active participants in the free agent market. In other tidbits from his Sunday Baseball Notes column:
- Both LA teams are interested in acquiring David Price from the Rays. The Angels may have a slight edge because they can put together package with bats like Mark Trumbo and Howie Kendrick while the Dodgers have an overstocked rotation.
- Joe Nathan should be of interest to both the Tigers and Yankees even though the latter seems to have settled on David Robertson as Mariano Rivera's replacement.
- There may be no better time for the Red Sox to trade John Lackey than right now.
- The Red Sox may consider re-signing Joel Hanrahan after he recovers from Tommy John surgery to provide protection for incumbent closer Koji Uehara.
- Franklin Gutierrez, whose $7.5MM club option was declined by the Mariners, is an intriguing player who can still perform at a high level when healthy. Staying healthy has been an issue for Gutierrez with six trips to the disabled list in the last four years.
- Johan Santana, whose $25MM club option was declined by the Mets, is another pretty good low-cost gamble.