A Closer Who Fits With The Mets

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The Twins declined their $12.5 million, 2012 option on closer Joe Nathan and will pay him a $2 million buyout. Twins GM Bill Smith has said that the Twins want Nathan back.

But not so fast.

While in some cases, the teams who have declined an option or traded a player would indeed be “interested” in bringing said player back (see Roy Oswalt and the Phillies or Carlos Beltran with the Mets), it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to pay the amount of money required to get them; so said interest is similar to me saying I’d like to travel into space—technically I could do it, but I don’t have the money to spare nor the intense desire to do so.

The Twins would have the cash available to bring Nathan back and are desperately in need of a closer with both Nathan and Matt Capps on the free agent market, but since they’ve already declined the option, Nathan will be in heavy demand as a moderate risk, massive reward for a short term 1-2-year deal.

The Mets need a veteran closer (they’re not going into the season with uncertainty at multiple positions again) and Nathan grew up on Long Island; went to Stony Brook University; and was a Mets fan growing up.

Nathan’s about to turn 37 and got off to a poor start in 2011 after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery; he wound up back on the disabled list twice with a strained right flexor tendon related to his recovery, but as the summer wore on and he regained the closer’s role from the struggling Capps, he also regained some semblance of the form that made him one of baseball’s top short relievers for many years.

From July on he was mostly reliable and his strikeout numbers were solid (about 1 per inning); his velocity was consistently around 92 all season; and while he’s not what he was in his heyday, he’s a veteran who wouldn’t be intimidated by pitching in New York.

He couldn’t pitch on back-to-back days in 2010, so the Mets would likely have to have someone else capable of doing the job at least part of the time—they can have a spring training competition between Bobby Parnell and Manny Acosta and scour the market for pitchers who’ve been non-tendered; but with Nathan two years out from surgery, he’s a worthwhile gamble on an incentive laden deal to make a comeback at home with the Mets.

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Chris Carpenter’s Contract And Albert Pujols

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It’s a positive sign for the Cardinals that they’ve chosen to keep Chris Carpenter by agreeing to a contract extension through 2013. The contract eliminates the $15 million option and the $1 million buyout for 2012 by paying him $21 million over two seasons. This decision and that they’re going to exercise the 2012 option for Adam Wainwright means that their starting rotation will be formidable for 2012 with Carpenter, Jake Westbrook, Jaime Garcia, Kyle Lohse and Wainwright.

Scott Boras represents Edwin Jackson, so you can forget about the Cardinals keeping him as they need to come to contract agreements with Albert Pujols and/or Lance Berkman.

This is also a precursor to Tony LaRussa remaining as manager. LaRussa has a mutual option with the Cardinals and it’s simply easier for him to stay with the club than to look for another job and start all over again even if it was an agreeable location with a neat story like going back to the White Sox.

What does this mean for Pujols?

Don’t automatically think the Cardinals are going to go insane to keep their star player, but he won’t leave. You can forget about the $200 million that was floating around as what Pujols wants. It’s notable that this “demand” came from voices other than Pujols himself. He’s not getting that from the Cardinals; he’s not getting that from anyone.

What hurts him on the open market are the other available first basemen Prince Fielder and Berkman and possibly Paul Konerko via trade. It works in the Cardinals favor that Pujols doesn’t want to leave St. Louis and they don’t want him to leave; because he’s so entrenched with the club and in the community and he never hired Boras as his agent, he’s not going to demand an Alex Rodriguez-style contract to be the alpha-male of baseball with the contract to prove it.

Pujols is this era’s Joe DiMaggio; he’s proud but not greedy just for the sake of it; nor is he going to look to extract every last penny from the Cardinals by means of extortion, emotional and market-driven.

That doesn’t mean he’s going to take short money or an offer that would be perceived as insulting for a player of his stature; under no circumstances should Pujols be expected to take substantially less money than inferior players like Ryan Howard, but with the Cardinals taking steps to get their financial house in order by extending Carpenter and exercising Wainwright’s option, they’re keeping the longtime core together to make it reasonable for Pujols to take less money than he would be entitled to in comparison to that which A-Rod received.

They could let Pujols leave if things get out of hand; Pujols could seek a larger offer elsewhere, but like Derek Jeter and the Yankees last year, the rest of baseball knows the reality with Pujols and the Cardinals and won’t bother making a competitive offer.

Part of the reason he’s going to stay is the alteration of Carpenter’s contract; part of the reason is the doesn’t want to leave; and part is that the Cardinals won’t let him leave.

The Carpenter contract extension is another piece to that puzzle.

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