What is the Twins’ plan?

The Twins are close to signing Joe Nathan to a four year deal for $11-12 million per. Buster Olney has some interesting points about this in his blog:

Wrote earlier this spring that I didn’t think the Twins would sign Nathan, and that was dead wrong. You just don’t see mid-market and small-market teams signing closers to long-term deals, because generally speaking, as good as Nathan is, it’s easier to find a closer than it is, say, a starting pitcher or a shortstop or second baseman or center fielder or catcher. If the Twins have a payroll of about $80 million in 2009 and Nathan’s salary takes up about 14 to 15 percent of that, he and the Reds’ Francisco Cordero will assume greater percentages of their club’s respective payrolls than any closers in the game. And the Twins’ half-in, half-out approach of trading Johan Santana before the start of spring training and then locking up Nathan is very unusual.

Generally speaking, closers are overrated; they do pitch important innings, but the total numbers of outs they accumulate isn’t very great. In markets like New York and Boston (and to a lesser degree, Philly, etc) the closer at least appears to be more important, because every game carries more importance.

But even a pitcher billed as a “poor closer” will usually successfully save more games than he doesn’t. A poor starter does not throw more quality starts than not.

So for a team like the Twins who don’t have much to spend, you’d think they’d invest in starting pitching, figuring they can get enough outs from any of their decent bullpen arms being the closer. Joe Borowski and Todd Jones are both closing for the elite teams in the Central, after all.

So this adds another wrinkle to the Santana trade. If the Twins are really looking to invest money in their current players, why were they so quick to deal off Santana? Were they concerned by his elbow? His increasing home run rates? Obviously they didn’t think he was worth the money he was seeking, which is a big concession. Before it could just be assumed they didn’t have the money.

So what does the Twins organization really think of Johan Santana? And it only makes sense to give big money to a closer if you think you can win now. But can the Twins?

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