Nathan and the Twins agreed to terms Monday on a $47 million, four-year contract, a deal that includes a 2012 club option on the 33-year-old closer.
The Twins weren't going to get rid of the two-time All-Star, not after deciding to deal Santana and watching Hunter and Silva depart as free agents during the offseason.
"It was definitely a priority for us," assistant general manager Rob Antony said. "I think a lot of people thought, when it became clear we were going to trade Johan Santana, that Joe was next. That wasn't the case at all. We look at Joe as a key member of the core of this ballclub. We had to take care of some other things first ... but when the time was right we did it. And it was well worth it."
Nathan was slated to make $6 million in 2008, far less than several ace relievers around the majors. Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees got a $45 million, three-year contract in November, and Francisco Cordero signed a $46 million, four-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds after becoming a free agent. With Francisco Rodriguez of the Los Angeles Angels eligible for free agency after this season, the price for closers could soar even higher.
Antony and Nathan's agent, Dave Pepe, tore up the existing contract and worked out a new one. Nathan gets $11.25 million in each of the next four seasons, starting with 2008, and the Twins have a $12.5 million option for 2012 with a $2 million buyout.
The price of the option can rise to $14 million -- going up by $500,000 each for 55 games finished in 2010, 55 games finished in 2011 and 110 games finished in 2010 and 2011 combined. Also, Nathan said the deal contains a limited no-trade clause.
The structure is similar to the contract Antony worked on in January for first baseman Justin Morneau, who signed for $80 million over six years. Morneau will make $14 million in each of the final four years of his deal, which gives the team as much payroll flexibility as possible.
"We've shown that we're committed to winning," Nathan said. "A lot of people are counting us out, but we're going to be good this year and for years to come, because we're young and a lot of our guys are hungry."
Nathan praised owner Carl Pohlad and his family for being "really committed to getting this done." Nathan also said manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson were high on his list of reasons for wanting to stay.
"With the way they handle the pitchers here, they take care of us," Nathan said. "They worry more about careers than they do seasons. They think long term more than they do short term."
Pepe acknowledged he was pessimistic about reaching an agreement, but after meeting with Antony last week he realized the sides were closer than before. Nathan did not want negotiations to continue into the regular season.
"I think first and foremost Joe wouldn't want to be here if he didn't think this was a good ballclub," Pepe said. "This was what he wanted."
Nathan's 160 saves over four seasons as Minnesota's closer are tied with Rivera for most in the AL. Nathan's ERA since joining the Twins is 1.94. He has converted 90 percent of his 179 career save opportunities.
He said he plans to pitch past the length of his latest contract.
"I feel like I'm in great shape right now," Nathan said.