Twins exercise Nathan's option at bargain price of $6M

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have exercised their $6 million
option on closer Joe Nathan, ensuring the two-time All-Star will be
back for another season in Minnesota.

The Twins announced the move Monday, as expected. They could
have bought Nathan out for $1 million, but the right-hander's 160
saves and a 1.94 ERA over the past four years make his salary a
bargain by market value. He turns 33 next month.

Last year, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and Mets closer Billy
Wagner each made $10.5 million, and seven other closers made as
much or more than Nathan will make next year.

Nathan's current contract was concocted during spring training
in 2005, when his previous deal was extended to give him salaries
of $3.75 million in 2006, $5.25 million in 2007 and now $6 million
in 2008. He acknowledged earlier this season that he probably left
some money on the table with those negotiations.

If the Twins want to keep him past next year, it's certainly
going to cost them a lot more. Nathan and his agent, Dave Pepe,
have said they're open to another extension. But the team has many
pressing issues this winter.

Center fielder Torii Hunter will be a free agent next month, and
fellow All-Star Johan Santana has only one more season left on his
contract. Another starting pitcher, Carlos Silva, will be a free
agent after the World Series as well, and first baseman Justin
Morneau has a hefty raise coming through arbitration.

Acquired from the San Francisco Giants in that infamously
lopsided trade that also brought pitchers Boof Bonser and Francisco
Liriano to Minnesota for catcher A.J. Pierzynski after the 2003
season, Nathan has become one of baseball's premier ninth-inning

Originally drafted as a shortstop, he struggled with shoulder
problems during much of his time in San Francisco. His fastball was
flat in his first spring with the Twins, who worried so much about
his velocity that they wondered if it was a mistake to make him the
closer -- and considered trading for someone else.

But Nathan assured them this was a normal occurrence, and he
quickly assuaged their concern. Over four seasons with Minnesota,
Nathan is 19-8 with 160 saves in 174 chances (92 percent). Last
season, he went 4-2 with a 1.88 ERA and 37 saves, his fourth
straight season that he has saved at least 36 games.