How will the Twins replace Joe Nathan at closer?

Leave a comment

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.

There is, indeed, an MLB-to-Portland group

Associated Press
Leave a comment

On Monday, Baseball America reported that MLB is prepared to expand to Portland and Montreal. We talked about that at length yesterday. One of the most common responses to that piece has been “Portland? Really?”

There’s good reason for that response. Baseball-to-Portland has been talked about for years, but there has never been any real traction. Past initiatives have failed, significant public funding for a stadium seems to be a political impossibility and, heck, Portland wasn’t even interested in keeping its Triple-A team, turning its stadium into a much more successful soccer venue and not missing the Beavers all that much.

It would seem, however, that the reports are not mere speculation and there is a genuine baseball-to-Portland initiative afoot once again. From the Oregonian:

On Tuesday, former Trail Blazers broadcaster Mike Barrett confirmed to The Oregonian/OregonLive that he is part of the Portland group.

“I am officially involved with a campaign to bring Major League Baseball and a stadium development to Portland,” Barrett said. “There is also a formally organized, sophisticated and seasoned management group running this initiative. We will keep you fully apprised of any/all developments as this project progresses.”

One guy — a broadcaster no less — saying he’s part of a group is not exactly a major needle-mover, of course. But it does contrast with past Portland initiatives that have been well-publicized grassroots affairs. While those may have been more broad-based and while their public nature may have provided some refreshing transparency, the simple fact of professional sports ownership in the 21st century is that well-monied groups who play things close to the vest are more likely to make waves. We’re in an age when technocratic hedge fund-type guys make things happen in this arena, not in an age when flamboyant public personalities do.

None of which is to say that baseball in Portland is a lock or that expansion anywhere is a short term proposition. It’s just to note that, yeah, there is a bit more going on, it seems, than just pointing at a map and saying “yeah, a team would make sense here.”