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Friday, March 28, 2008

Bullpen, Twins lock up Nathan

Now that spring break is over and I have internet access, there is a lot to write about with only 3 days until the season opener!

First, I'd like to finish the 2008 Team Preview by taking a look at the bullpen. It was fitting that I hadn't written this post yet as the Twins made big news during the week regarding their star closer Joe Nathan. Monday, Nathan and the Twins agreed to a 4-year $47 million deal.

Across the blogosphere the deal seemed to come with mixed reviews. It is curious to see the Twins invest so much money in a player after seeing former stars Torii Hunter and Johan Santana leave this offesason, especially at a position like closer which is usually only considered a luxury. For a 33-year old closer to be the highest paid player on a team and be making $47 million is unique, but I'm not necessarily upset at this move. The deal certainly has its risk as Nathan could wear down and be grossly overpaid when he's 37, but it does provide stability at the end of the bullpen and is another sign from Twins management that they want to remain competitive.

Although $11.25 million per season is a lot for a close on a small market team that could have replaced Nathan with a cheap option like Pat Neshek, Nathan is a relative bargain compared to the mega-deals locked up my the Yankees Mariano Rivera and the Reds Francisco Cordero this offseason. Of all the closer is MLB, Nathan has proved to be on the of the most durable and efficient performers. Plus, I know Joe is incredibly happy in Minnesota and I'm happy to have him in the new ballpark.

This news allows me to segue into the bullpen team preview. We now know Joe Nathan will be closing many more games for the Twins and very likely become the team's all time saves leader by the time his new contract is over. This means submariner Pat Neshek is firmly planted in the setup role with the rest of the bullpen looking like Matt Guerrier, Juan Rincon, Dennys Reyes, Jesse Crain, and after recent spring training cuts Brian Bass.

Neshek had an amazing first half of 2007 putting him on the ballot for the All-Star Final Spot selection for the midsummer classic, but he seemed to tire down the stretch and ended with an average year. He worked on strengthening and conditioning during the offseason and does not have an earned run this spring. Look for Neshek to be a big contributor for the Twins in '08. I also expect Guerrier to have a big year for the Twins. Like Neshek, his first half numbers in 2007 were better than the second half, but he finished with a strong season and should see many innings in '08 due to the youth and inexperience in the Twins rotation.

Crain, Rincon, and Reyes all struggled with injuries last year and were unable to match the great seasons the trio had in 2006. Rincon certainly seems to be on a steady career decline but may still have a little gas left for the '08 campaign. Crain missed nearly the entire year last year pitching only 16 innings, yet the hard throwing righty has looked pretty good this spring. Look for him to perform well this year but expectations should be low after coming off of a big injury. Reyes will resume is roll as the lefty specialist and will also hope to bounce back from a disappointing '07. He should remain effective against lefthanded hitters but will most likely never match his insane '06 campaign.

Bass was a surprise to make the 25 man roster, but after Glen Perkins struggled all spring, Bass's numbers looked pretty good and he will take the bullpen role of long-reliever (aka mop-up man). I'm sure he will get plenty of innings with starters struggles and games get ugly.

All and all, the Twins bullpen is considered a strength of the team and should provide a solid backbone to the young starting rotation. If the starters can pitch solid games into the sixth inning there is a very good chance with a Guerrier/Neshek/Nathan combination that the Twins can pick up the win. The Twins will need the bullpen to be a source of consistency and health should be the only factor that could threaten this team strength. It'll be great to see Nathan coming in in the 9th for the clutch save, let's hope the Twins have plenty of leads going into the 9th inning.

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