Potential Off-Season Targets: Joe Nathan

By Unknown author

With the 2011 season over, the old saying, “There’s always next season,” instantly becomes all Mets fan’s credo. But before we can think about riding the 7-train out to Flushing again, there is a whole off-season to project and pontificate about. Considering the amount of holes the Mets will have, this coming off-season holds a lot of importance.

In this new on-going series, Rising Apple will analyze potential off-season targets for the New York Mets. Today’s target at-hand is soon to be free agent closer Joe Nathan.

Many fans were elated when the Mets inked closer-stud Francisco Rodriguez before the 2009 season. And who can blame them–Rodriguez owned a dominant 2.23 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 2.98 K/BB, and average of 41 saves from 2004 to 2008 (including a whopping 62 saves in 2008). But in his third season as a Met, K-Rod’s skills continued to erode at a fast pace, and his ugly $17.5 million 2012 option appeared en route to become guaranteed (just needed 55 finished games). To avoid the terrible expense, the Mets smartly dealt the closer to the Milwaukee Brewers, and more or less started the “Bobby Parnell Era.”

Unfortunately, that era didn’t last very long, as Parnell blew just as many opportunities as he saved (6 a piece). Now going into the off-season, it’s pretty apparent that the Mets will pursue an outside-the-organization closer option. Even with the likes of Heath Bell and Ryan Madson available via free agency, in many ways, Joe Nathan could actually be the most logical choice.

From 2004 to 2009, Nathan was one of the best closers in baseball. The right-hander owned a 1.87 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 4.32 K/BB, and an average of 41 saves per season (246 total). But, the usually healthy veteran surprisingly opted for Tommy John surgery after 2009, and sat-out all of 2010. Considering Nathan was 36 years-old, many questioned whether he’d ever actually return to form for the Twins.

In 2011, Joe Nathan was not his dominant self, but then again, he was just one season removed from TJ surgery. Nathan posted a 4.84 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 3.07 K/BB, and just 14 saves in 44.6 innings. Aside from his un-Nathan-like ERA, his strikeouts were also down (from 11.67 K/9 in 2009 to 8.66 K/9), and he surrendered a ton of homeruns (from 0.92 HR/9 to 1.41 HR/9). Despite some of the uncharacteristic surface numbers, Nathan’s 2011 season was pretty great given the circumstances. The closer’s 3.96 xFIP suggests that a few too many opposing hitters crossed home in 2011. In addition, there was plenty of good news surrounding Nathan’s pitches and velocity. While his usually fantastic fastball was only worth -5.8 RAA, it’s important to note that he only lost 1.3 MPH on it. Given that Tommy John patients usually gain all of their velocity back in season two after the surgery, Nathan’s very slight MPH drop-off is promising, and could also be the culprit for the lack of RAA. Aside from his fastball, Nathan’s slider (3.7 RAA) and curveball (1.5 RAA) were too positive signs looking ahead to 2012.

With the Twins recent decision to decline Nathan’s $12.5 million option, the righty will become a full-fledged free-agent after the World Series. Due to his age (will be 37), recent injury, and imperfect 2011 season, it would be shocking if Nathan garnered more than a two-year deal. Unlike Madson or Bell, who will easily command a much more lucrative and potentially crippling contact (in terms of years), Nathan will undoubtedly be a comparative bargain. Even if the veteran’s 2012 production lies somewhere between his 2009 and 2011 seasons, it would still be a major win for the New York Mets and their closer-woe.