Johan Santana is not be the only elite Twins pitcher who could be dealt this offseason.
There are indications from some club officials that if Santana is dealt, they also might look to move closer Joe Nathan, who will make $6 million in 2008.
Nathan's situation mirrors Santana's. Both are considered among the best at their positions. Both can become free agents after the 2008 season. The Twins have been unsuccessful in trying to sign either to long-term deals. Both could fetch quality players who could help keep the club competitive, although the return for Santana likely would be much greater.
"You hear the rumors," Nathan said from his home in Tennessee. "It's something you know is an option for them."
Nathan, who turned 33 last week, was 4-2 with a 1.88 ERA and 37 saves last season. He said contract talks with the club have been virtually nonexistent. The Twins tried to lock up Nathan before last season but never got close on the length or value of a contract.
The market for closers has advanced rapidly since then. Mariano Rivera returned to the Yankees for $45 million over three years. Francisco Cordero jumped from Milwaukee to Cincinnati for $46 million over four years, with a $12 million team option for a fifth year. So Nathan is more than reasonably priced for 2008, making him attractive to teams seeking closers.
Nathan is curious to see which direction the Twins are headed. He doesn't want to be part of a rebuilding program but remains willing to work out an extension and be around for the opening of the new ballpark, set for 2010.
"I'd love to be a part of that and all the excitement in Minnesota," said Nathan, who has 160 saves and a 1.94 ERA in his four years as Twins closer. "If they plan on having a team that can compete, then shoot yeah.
"All that being said, it's nothing I can concern myself with. I have to get ready to help this team in 2008 and see what happens."
San Francisco and Milwaukee are among teams in need of a closer. Those two teams certainly would be joined by others if Nathan is put into play.
The Twins tried to lock up Santana too, but he's interested in a deal that could approach six years and $150 million. Those terms have made the Twins listen to offers for their two-time Cy Young Award winner.
The Yankees, Red Sox and Angels are three teams known to have talked with the Twins about Santana. The Twins are aiming high, asking for as many as four players in return. In Boston's case, that includes outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury and righthander Clay Buchholz. The Twins also are interested in Red Sox outfielder Coco Crisp, although their preference is for Ellsbury.
The Twins removed pitchers Errol Simonitsch and Ricky Barrett from their 40-man roster Tuesday. Are they clearing space in advance of a trade? GM Bill Smith said nothing was close.
If Santana and Nathan are traded this offseason, it would suggest the Twins are reloading for 2010.
"I think it's important to the fans to have a good team in 2010 but, despite the changes that have been made recently, we're not giving up on 2008 and 2009," said Smith, who wouldn't comment on specific trade talks. "We are continuing to pursue deals that makes this organization stronger and better, short term and long term."
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