Joe Nathan’s season and possibly his career are over, as the Tigers announced that the 40-year-old closer suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow while rehabbing at Triple-A for a strained flexor tendon and will undergo Tommy John surgery.
Nathan cut short his Wednesday rehab appearance and walked off the mound in pain, so the significant injury is no surprise.
When the Tigers signed Nathan to a two-year, $20 million deal he was coming off a fantastic two-year run with the Rangers in which he saved 80 games with a 2.09 ERA and 151/35 K/BB ratio and prior to that he was an elite closer with the Twins for seven seasons.
In his decade-long (2004-2013) run as an elite closer Nathan saved 340 games with a 2.14 ERA and .545 opponents’ OPS. For comparison, during that same 2004-2013 span Mariano Rivera saved 369 games with a 1.92 ERA and .540 opponents’ OPS. Nathan also ranks fourth among all relievers in Win Probability Added since 1975, behind only Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Goose Gossage.
Things were never right for Nathan in Detroit, however, as he struggled enough to get booed off the mound at Comerica Park, fought back against the angry crowd by making an obscene gesture, and simply never got on track before being shut down with the injury.
Now he’s likely facing a 12-15 month recovery timetable, which means Nathan would be nearly 42 years old upon returning. Retirement seems likely after 15 seasons, 377 saves, a 2.89 ERA, six All-Star games, and $85 million in earnings.