Editor's Note: Nothing says playoff baseball like the MLB hot stove. The only thing more amusing than fans playing GM is when beat writers do it. Usually they do it with more pizazz and insight than Joe Blogger -- myself included. Hot Stove Hopefuls highlights some of the hot names on the market and tries to find a spot for them on the Cubs.
Today's feature: Joe Nathan
Player: Joe Nathan (baseball-reference.com bio page)
Current Team: Minnesota Twins
Contract Details: 2 years, $22.5 million signed in March 2008 (plus $12.5 million club option and $2 million buyout for 2012)
Publication: "2. Get out from under the last half of Nathan's large contract (two years, $22.5 million) by trading him. The Cubs might take him."
Source: Patrick Reuse, Minnesota Star Tribune
Despite Milton Bradley's antics and lack of production, there is no Chicago Cubs player I despised more than Kevin Gregg. Whether it was his goggles or the flat low-90s fastball that opposing hitters teed off on, nothing was more aggravating than watching the Cubs closer deliver walk-off wins for the opponents.
Enter stage left, Joe Nathan.
Nathan has been one of baseball's best closers since being acquired by the Minnesota Twins (along with Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser) from the San Francisco Giants in exchange for A.J. Pierzynski. (Yet, Brian Sabean still finds a way to get a contract extension. I digress.) He has averaged 41 saves since becoming the Twins' closer in 2004 and has made four All Star Game appearances in his six years in Minnesota.
Over the last three years, Nathan has accumulated 123 saves for a competitive Twins team. He's racked up 240 strikeouts in 206 2/3 innings. Nathan's WHIP has only crept above 1.00 once, and that was in 2007 where he converted 37 saves and posted a WHIP of 1.019. In his tenure with the Twinkies, Nathan's WHIP is 0.934 and earned run average is 1.87.
This past season, Nathan posted a 2.10 ERA -- his highest since posting a 2.70 ERA in 2005. He is among baseball's elite closers, and even though Carlos Marmol was perfect after replacing Kevin Gregg, there is no such thing has having too much depth in the bullpen. It would move Marmol back into the eighth inning and Angel Guzman back to the seventh. And all of a sudden, the Cubs are playing in six-inning ball games.
WHAT CAN THE CUBS OFFER?
Among Reusse's list of demands is a shortstop that won't be as pricey or old as free-agent-to-be Orlando Cabrera. This is where GM Jim Hendry gives Ryan Theriot a one-way ticket to Minnesota and wishes him good luck on his future endeavors. As much as I bash Theriot, he'd be a perfect fit with the scrappy Piranhas. The Riot is a career .295 hitter March through August. If he can finally figure out September, who knows how much better he could be. (Hint: Only marginally better.)
Also on Reusse's list for
The Twins also seem to be lacking bullpen arms, so the Cubs could theoretically dangle middle relief help in the form of Jeff Stevens, Justin Berg, Mitch Atkins or Esmailin Caridad. Heck, I'd become a Twins fan if they took Aaron Heilman off the Cubs' hands just for shits and giggles.
Finally, Reusse also asks for outfield help, seeing that he wants Carlos Gomez to get a full year of seasoning in Rochester, N.Y. The Cubs' youthful outfielders are limited, but Sam Fuld and Tyler Colvin come to mind. And at what point do you think the Cubs could trade Jake Fox while his value is high? Minnesota seems like a good fit for a right-handed hitting, lefty-mashing designated hitter to complement the hitting prowess of Jason Kubel.
The Cubs and Twins nearly made a deal for Rich Harden, but that fell through when Hendry didn't have the foresight to know the Cubs were no longer contenders despite the fact that everyone else in Chicago knew how things would transpire once September began. The last time these two hooked up on a deal, it helped land the Cubs Nomar Garciaparra, but it might always go down as the deal that sent Orlando Cabrera (there's that name again!) to Boston.
Can Jim Hendry do it again? Maybe if you entice him with a glazed donut, it might speed up the process.