DETROIT (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — After two All-Star seasons with the Texas Rangers, closer Joe Nathan is moving on.
The Detroit Tigers agreed to terms with the free agent reliever on a two-year contract with a club option for 2016 on Wednesday, accomplishing one of their main objectives this offseason by adding one of baseball’s most accomplished closers to the bullpen.
Texas will look to replace Nathan through free agency or with a series of internal options, including right handed pitchers Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, and Tanner Scheppers.
The three-time defending AL Central champions announced the deal two days after trading right-hander Doug Fister to Washington.
It’s been a busy offseason already for Detroit, which traded slugger Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler in a move that, coupled with the trade of Fister, gave the Tigers more financial flexibility.
Detroit’s bullpen was unsettled for much of last season. Joaquin Benoit eventually performed well as the closer, but he is now a free agent.
Nathan, who turned 39 last month, had 43 saves in 46 chances for the Texas Rangers last season. The right-hander posted a 1.39 ERA, then declined a $9 million option that would have kept him with the Rangers. Nathan wanted at least a two-year agreement, and the Tigers were willing to give it to him.
“We are pleased to be adding a premier closer to our ballclub,” Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski said. “Joe solidifies the back end of our bullpen and fills what we identified as a big need on our pitching staff.”
Dombrowski also said Miguel Cabrera will move from third base to first — a move that seemed likely from the moment Fielder was traded. The Tigers are hoping Nick Castellanos can take over at third.
Now that Mariano Rivera has retired, Nathan is baseball’s active leader with 341 saves. He’s pitched for San Francisco, Minnesota and Texas — and he’s been particularly dominant when facing the Tigers, converting all 36 of his save chances with a 1.44 ERA.
Nathan missed the 2010 season with the Twins following surgery on his right elbow. He struggled in 2011 but pitched well for the Rangers the last two seasons.
Detroit went into last season without a set closer, and after the Tigers brought Jose Valverde back and that didn’t work, they went with Benoit. He finished the season with 24 saves in 26 chances, but in Game 2 of the AL championship series, he allowed a tying grand slam by Boston’s David Ortiz that was a turning point in the series.
The Red Sox went on to win in six games, rallying against the Detroit bullpen again in the finale.
After trading Fister, the Tigers are prepared to move promising left-hander Drew Smyly from the bullpen to the starting rotation. The bullpen will look a lot different next year, especially since Dombrowski says Benoit is unlikely to be back. Detroit declined an option on right-hander Jose Veras, and the Tigers got left-hander Ian Krol in the deal this week with Washington.
(©2013 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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