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Nathan trade rumors gain momentum

Nathan trade rumors gain momentum

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rumors that Joe Nathan might be on the market have been circulating for a few weeks now, but it wasn't until Monday that actual teams were linked to the Twins closer.

Reports surfaced on the first day of the 2007 Winter Meetings that the Twins have started discussions involving Nathan with a few different teams, including the Astros.

While sources close to the club have indicated that Nathan could be on the trading block this winter, there is one person who thinks the trade talk is much ado about nothing -- Nathan himself.

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"I don't think I'll be traded before the season starts," Nathan said on Monday. "I know there is going to be talk, but I think on Day 1, I will be pitching in Minnesota, trying to help the '08 Twins win as many as they can. From there, well, it's out of my hands."

Nathan, who will be a free agent after the 2008 season, was on hand at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center to hear the rumors firsthand. The closer drove two-and-a-half hours from his home in Knoxville on Sunday to meet up with his agents, Dave Pepe and Billy Martin Jr. The three even attended a Tennessee Titans game, before heading over to the meetings.

The trip also gave the closer a chance to have a sit-down with the Twins front office. Nathan and his agents met with new Twins general manager Bill Smith and a group of other Twins executives on Monday morning. Indications were that no official negotiations regarding an extension took place during the session, but the two sides got a chance to catch up.

"We had a nice visit," Smith said.

Talks between the two sides regarding an extension have been minimal, at best, so far this offseason. It's one of the reasons that Nathan is considered to be a potential trade target.

Rumors regarding Nathan have taken a back seat at these meetings to those involving Twins ace Johan Santana. That could change quickly if a Santana trade is completed.

But, unlike Santana, whose value likely is highest now, the Twins could hold onto Nathan until the July trade deadline, when teams will be looking for elite-caliber closers.

Still, Nathan knows that his name could get linked to a number of teams this week and over the rest of the winter. His $6 million price tag for the '08 season is enticing in a year where free agent closers are earning deals like the one Francisco Cordero signed with the Reds -- four-years, $46 million, with a $12 million team option for a fifth year.

"I'm going to pay attention to what's going on and what's happening around the league," Nathan said. "You want to see what teams do and what they're trying to do. It will be interesting to see what happens, Even with Johan, I'm paying attention to see what the Twins might get in return."

Winter Meetings

Nathan, who turned 33 last month, has made it clear that his signing an extension with the Twins is largely contingent on the team showing that they are focused on winning. The Twins' recent trade with the Rays to acquire outfielder Delmon Young is something that Nathan feels is a step in the right direction.

"I really feel like that trade bettered us," Nathan said. "Obviously, Delmon Young gives us that offensive bat that we were looking for, the potential to be a 100-RBI guy. I think that was a good start to what we need to do this offseason."

But, the best indication that Nathan might get that the Twins aren't in the midst of a rebuilding process is actually whether they decide to extend him at all.

"Why pay a closer money if you are not going to have a team that can win?" Nathan said. "It's pretty much a waste of money. I'm not going to get out there and be able to perform and earn my money if we are not winning games.

"That's one of the luxuries I have. If they do try to resign me and show some interest in doing that, then it does kind of let me know they are trying to put a winning ballclub out there."

Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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