MINNEAPOLIS -- There will be no question about who will get the ball for the Twins in the ninth inning next season as the Twins officially exercised closer Joe Nathan's $6 million option for 2008 on Monday. It was an expected move as Nathan confirmed last week that the option was going to be picked up. But the Twins chose to honor Major League Baseball's request and wait until after the World Series to formally make the announcement. "I don't think it's a surprise to anyone," Twins general manager Bill Smith said of the club's decision to pick up the option. "Joe Nathan has been a big part of this club for the last few years and hopefully for years to come."
Nathan, who will turn 33 in November, has recorded 160 saves along with a 1.94 ERA over his four seasons with the Twins. He ranks second on the club's all-time saves list, trailing only Rick Aguilera (254), and became the first Twins pitcher to record 35 or more saves in four consecutive seasons. By picking up Nathan's option, the Twins now have seven players under contract for 2008, bringing their salary total as of now up to $30.9 million. That includes Johan Santana ($13.25 million), Joe Mauer ($6.25 million), Nick Punto ($2.4 million), Jesse Crain ($1.05 million), Dennys Reyes ($1 million) and Mike Redmond ($950,000). The Twins had the choice of buying Nathan out for $1 million, but even his $6 million salary is considered a bargain for a closer of his caliber. Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and Mets closer Billy Wagner each made $10.5 million in 2007. Along with those two pitchers, a total of nine closers made as much or more in '07 than the $6 million that Nathan will make next season. As for Nathan's future with the Twins beyond 2008, the closer and his agent, Dave Pepe, have talked about their interest in securing another extension with the club. The two sides began talks last spring but never came close to an agreement. After another solid 2007 season in which he converted 37 of his 41 save attempts, Nathan's asking price has certainly risen. And while Nathan admitted that he likely left some money on the table in 2005, when he signed the deal that paid him $3.75 million in '06 and $5.25 million in '07 along with the option, that's not expected to be the case this time around. Pepe said last week that he has been in contact with Smith recently, but there had been no change in talks regarding a longer term deal. "Bill and I have talked about a lot of different things, but we haven't specifically talked about an extension or numbers," Pepe said. "I think they are hopeful and Joe is hopeful that something can get done." Talk of an extension for Nathan might not be an immediate concern for the Twins as the club faces a litany of contractual issues this offseason. Center fielder Torii Hunter and pitcher Carlos Silva are expected to file for free agency in the coming days. Santana has just one season left on his contract and the club is expected to approach him about an extension this winter. That's in addition to the team wanting to secure long-term deals with some of its arbitration-eligible players -- such as first baseman Justin Morneau and right fielder Michael Cuddyer. Smith wouldn't comment on the club's possible plans for an extension with its closer, but he did reiterate the team's interest in keeping Nathan beyond next season. "There is no question we'd be interested in that," Smith said. "He's one of the best in the game. We hope that Joe Nathan stays in a Twins uniform for many years to come."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.