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Continued: Twins must find way to keep Nathan

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 12, 2008 - 10:07 PM

Joe Nathan, the best closer in the major leagues, can be a free agent at the end of this season, but the righthander appears to be confident the Twins will find a way to sign him to a multiyear contract so he can be here when the team moves into its new stadium in 2010.

After losing Johan Santana and Torii Hunter -- the best pitcher and the best position player on the team -- this offseason, the Twins are some $10-$15 million below last year's payroll. You would think the team's owners owe it to fans to sign Nathan rather than lose another superstar.

"We're still plugging away and seeing if we can get something agreed upon that will work for both sides, and we're still very optimistic that something's going to get done," Nathan said. "... It would be nice to stick around and see what the new ballpark brings to the city."

According to Nathan, there have been good feelings on both sides during the negotiations.

"On their side, as far as the Twins are concerned, they know their gameplan going in with the new stadium, and same with us," he said. "We know what would work for us and what's comfortable for us, and we're just hoping both sides can kind of reach that agreement and feel good about the deal."

As for this year, Nathan said he believes the team is on the right path.

"I think our offense, looking at it this spring, 1 through 9, we have a very good offense and can put some runs on the board," he said. "We've got a very young starting rotation, and if we can keep these guys healthy and keep them around, then we can be good and win some ballgames."

Excited by rotation

Without Santana, Carlos Silva and Matt Garza, the Twins rotation is full of question marks.

"Everyone's questioning our starting rotation only because they don't know a lot of the guys," Nathan said. "Anytime you have a young rotation, guys are going to question it because you don't know enough about them, you don't have enough knowledge.

"Everybody was young at one point and everybody doesn't start off as a Johan Santana. Johan was once young too, and now he's obviously one of the best pitchers in the game. So, we're excited to see what these guys do, and I'm sure they're excited to get a career started. So, it's going to be fun to watch."

Nathan described the Twins defense as "top-notch."

"Just looking in the outfield alone, Michael Cuddyer last year led the league in assists and probably had one of the best arms in the league," Nathan said. "Now, ... with Delmon Young and possibly having [Carlos] Gomez out in center -- [Cuddyer] can go from having one of the best arms in the league to the worst on the team.

"That fact alone shows you how good our defense is in the outfield. Then you go into the infield and you add a guy like Adam Everett at shortstop, who is basically as good a defender as Nick Punto, and that's a very high compliment because I think Punto is the best I've seen in the game. So, to have another guy like that behind you just gives you a lot of confidence as a pitcher to let them put it in play and let these guys work."

Nathan said there is a good feeling in spring training and the players are having a lot of fun. The Twins are 8-6 in Grapefruit League play after losing to Boston 12-7 on Wednesday.

"We're down here, we're relaxed, we're having fun, and we're going out and winning some games," he said. "We know it's spring training and we know the challenge that's ahead of us to come, especially in our division.

"The teams in our division have gotten better and the challenges are going to be even greater. So, we know what lies ahead and we know where predictions are and we know where we're supposed to finish, but that's what everybody else says.

"We're just going to go out and play the game hard and see where the cards lay at the end of the day."

Yes, no doubt there was a lot of disappointment among Twins fans when Hunter and Santana left this offseason. But Twins ownership can build some much-needed enthusiasm by signing Nathan.

Vikings under cap

After signing free agents Bernard Berrian, Maurice Hicks, Thomas Tapeh and Madieu Williams, the Vikings are $19 million under the NFL salary cap of $116.7 million.

Vikings wide receivers coach George Stewart would have liked a chance to coach Troy Williamson for another year, but Stewart said it probably was best for Williamson to get a new start with the Jaguars.

"Here, even if Williamson caught a number of passes, he would have been criticized the first time he dropped one," Stewart said. "[Jacksonville assistant] Mike Tice drafted Williamson when Mike was the Vikings coach, so he should know Troy pretty well and maybe he can help him."

Jottings

Gophers men's basketball freshman guard Blake Hoffarber has been playing on a regular basis despite being slowed by a form of plantar fasciitis, an injury that sidelined other athletes for long periods of time. ... Nit-ology, a website that attempts to project the National Invitation Tournament field, predicts the Gophers will play St. Joseph's in Philadelphia in the NIT's opening round. That, of course, is if the Gophers don't pull a miracle and win the Big Ten tournament, which would automatically qualify them for the NCAAs. ... Ivy League champion Cornell definitely will be on the Gophers' 2008-09 nonconference schedule. Cornell's leading scorer is sophomore Ryan Wittman, a former Eden Prairie standout and the son of Timberwolves coach Randy. The word from Bloomington, Ind., is that Randy Wittman will get strong consideration for the Hoosiers coaching vacancy if he decides he is interested in leaving the NBA for the college ranks instead.

The Gophers are one of the basketball teams being considered to play in a doubleheader next season at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and the Fiesta Bowl. ... It was kind of surprising to see the Gophers passed over when it came to individual honors, with Lawrence McKenzie being named third-team All-Big Ten by the conference coaches and honorable mention by the media, and Dan Coleman getting only honorable mention on both teams. Believe me, both players deserved better recognition than they received.

According to GopherIllustrated.com, Michael Carter, a cousin of former Gophers standout safety Tyrone Carter, has been offered a football scholarship by the Gophers. Michael Carter, a cornerback at Pompano Beach (Fla.) Ely High School, said the Gophers are his favorite right now. ... While the Miami Dolphins have made a lot of changes since Bill Parcells took over, they did re-sign former Gophers cornerback Michael Lehan to a four-year contract. Lehan started 14 games last year for Miami and had 56 tackles and one interception.

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on his Podcast twice a week at www.startribune.com/sidcast. shartman@startribune.com

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