He was supposed to close out games in the inaugural season at Target Field. He was supposed to be the guy to close out games in an extended playoff run. He was supposed to take over the crown as the closer with the most saves in franchise history.
Sadly, it’s been learned today that none of those things will probably happen in 2010.
The word “probably” is used because closer Joe Nathan and fans are still holding out hope. Hope that two weeks of rehab and a high pain tolerance might help keep one of the best closers in professional baseball on the mound rather than on the operating table.
In the six seasons since joining the Minnesota Twins in the famous San Francisco Giants trade, Nathan has saved more games than any other closer in baseball. Yes, his 246 saves in that timeframe are more than future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, who closed out 243 in that same span.
Nathan is not replaceable. No pitcher within the organization can step in and fill his shoes, and you’d be hard pressed to find any other options that could either. Nathan has arguably been the best closer in baseball since his arrival in Minneapolis, and only a small number of closers, maybe limited to one or two others, could come close to matching his production.
While Nathan is irreplaceable, the Twins do still have alternatives. The relievers that first come to mind include Jon Rauch, Matt Guerrier and Pat Neshek.
Back in 2008, Rauch closed out 18 games, and he has the most career saves out of any other pitcher on the staff. Meanwhile, Guerrier has been a solid setup man who can miss some bats (he has the highest miss percentage next to Nathan), and before his own Tommy John Surgery, Neshek was a near All-Star who many viewed as the next closer.
As spring training began, the questions all centered around the finishing touches for the Opening Day roster. Who would finish out the rotation? Who would round out the bench? Now the Twins are faced with a much bigger question. Who can come closest to matching the production of arguably the best closer in baseball?