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Updated: November 22nd, 2011 3:07pm
Zulgad: Joe Nathan's decision to leave is best for pitcher and Twins

Zulgad: Joe Nathan's decision to leave is best for pitcher and Twins

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by Judd Zulgad
1500ESPN.com

News of Joe Nathan's departure for the Texas Rangers on Monday night caused a few angry fans to vent their frustration at Dave St. Peter via Twitter.

One fan informed the Minnesota Twins President that his wife wanted him to "turn in" his season tickets because the club had dumped its longtime closer. St. Peter pointed out Nathan had left as a free agent.

Another wondered why the Twins hadn't matched Texas' offer to the righthander. St. Peter replied the ballclub was never given that chance.

What St. Peter didn't say was that even if the Twins had been afforded that opportunity by the Nathan camp there was little chance they would have matched the Texas deal.

The Rangers introduced Nathan on Tuesday after he signed a two-year, $14 million contract that includes a club option for $9 million in 2014 or a $500,000 buyout.

The move will enable the Rangers to move Neftali Feliz to the starting rotation and create some flexibility if C.J. Wilson, a marquee starter on the free-agent market, decides to go elsewhere.

Texas is coming off of its second consecutive World Series appearance - it has lost both - and is gearing up to make another run at an American League West title.

Signing Nathan makes sense for the Rangers.

It would have made little sense for the Twins.

Nathan, a four-time All-Star selection, celebrated his 37th birthday on Tuesday and was rewarded with a contract that makes it clear at least one team believes he is all the way back from the Tommy John surgery he underwent in late March 2010.

Nathan's statistics from the second half of 2011 seem to support that. He got off to a rough start, something that didn't surprise considering his surgery, but then compiled a 3.38 ERA in his final 31 games after returning from a stint on the disabled list.

Nathan was a perfect 11-for-11 in save opportunities from mid-July to the end of the season.

Clearly the pressure on Nathan lessened in a big way as the Twins plummeted out of the race but that has nothing to do with this decision. Simply put it was time for the Twins and their all-time saves leader to part ways after eight years together.

The Twins are coming off a 99-loss season and anyone who doesn't think there is some serious rebuilding that needs to be done at Target Field is kidding themselves.

Even if the assumption is made that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau can hold up next season at catcher and first base, respectively, the Twins still need help when it comes to starting pitching and the bullpen needs some serious rebuilding.

Jamey Carroll, who will turn 38 in February and signed a $6.5 million, two-year deal this month, might be penciled in as the starting shortstop but the middle infield is another area in transition. Carroll isn't a long-term solution and there is no guarantee that Alexi Casilla is going to grab the job at second base.

All of this means that the last thing the Twins needed was an aging closer, who likely wouldn't have ended up having enough save opportunities to suit him and might have simply served as trade bait come next July.

The Twins knew this and so did Nathan, a Knoxville, Tenn., resident, who will get to play closer to home.

As for those who are frustrated by what they are seeing from the Twins that one is a bit difficult to figure out.

It might be easy to second guess how things were being handled if Bill Smith was still running the show as general manager but that's no longer the case.

For much of the summer, fans complained about Smith's blunders and expressed their desire to see him gone. They got their wish on Nov. 7 when Smith was dismissed in a surprise move and Terry Ryan returned to the GM's chair, at least on an interim basis.

The move back to Ryan gave many what they wanted, so it's going to seem pretty ridiculous if those same disgruntled fans now decide they don't like Ryan's approach. (Finding a closer needs to be at the bottom of Ryan's list, by the way.)

The Twins are expected to announce this week that they've signed free-agent Ryan Doumit to a one-year, $3 million contract to serve as a backup catcher and also fill in at various other spots, including first base, right field and designated hitter.

But as Carroll and Doumit enter, look for Ryan to let free-agent outfielders Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel walk. Closer Matt Capps only will return if the Twins get a very reasonable deal, likely one that could set them up to move the veteran around the trade deadline.

In one of his Twitter replies on Monday, St. Peter said the Twins were having ongoing discussions with representatives for Cuddyer, Kubel and Capps.

It was unclear where those talks stood, but it's hard to imagine the Twins breaking the bank for either Cuddyer or Kubel, despite the contributions they have made to the success the franchise had up until last season.

The Twins appear set on getting the payroll down from $115 million to around $100 million in 2012 - this would be a far bigger deal if one key signing could make the difference next season - and who knows if Cuddyer and Kubel even want to return.

Before anyone becomes overly upset by any of this, keep one thing in mind. The Twins put Ryan back in charge for a reason. They trust him to turn things around and rebuild portions of this roster.

Allowing Nathan to leave town was a step in that direction. Ryan might see waving goodbye to Cuddyer and Kubel the same way.

Those who lack patience might not be happy about this but that's going to be the reality of the Twins' 2011-12 offseason and Twitter complaints to the team president aren't going to change a thing.

Judd Zulgad is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays and "Saturday Morning SportsTalk" from 10 a.m. to noon on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Judd | @1500ESPNJudd | Mackey & Judd
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