"It was definitely a priority for us," assistant general manager Rob Antony said of keeping Nathan. "I think a lot of people thought, when it became clear we were going to trade Johan Santana, that Joe was next. That wasn't the case at all. We look at Joe as a key member of the core of this ballclub. We had to take care of some other things first ... but when the time was right, we did it. And it was well worth it."
Nathan, 33, has established himself as one of the elite closers in the game since joining the Twins at the start of the 2004 season. He's recorded 160 saves during that period, tying him with the Yankees' Mariano Rivera for the most saves in the American League in that four-year span. He's also the first pitcher in Twins history to record 36 or more saves in four consecutive seasons.
Nathan's contract will pay him $11.25 million each year from 2008-2011, with a $2 million buyout if the option is not picked up. The price of the option can rise to $14 million -- going up by $500,000 each for 55 games finished in 2010, 55 games finished in '11 and 110 games finished in '10 and '11 combined.
The contract will also include a limited no-trade clause in which the closer can block three teams a year. It's the same clause that was in Nathan's previous contract.
The two sides had appeared close to reaching a deal over the past few days, but it was finalized on Monday morning after Nathan's agents, Dave Pepe and Billy Martin Jr., met with members of the Twins' front office to go over the last few details.
Nathan was joined by his wife, Lisa, and two children, Cole and Riley, at the press conference to announce the deal. He thanked Twins owner Carl Pohlad and his family for being "really committed to getting this done." He also credited his manager, Ron Gardenhire, and pitching coach, Rick Anderson, as a big reason for wanting to stay.
"These guys care about the team and care about players," Nathan said. "They are more concerned about careers than they are seasons. They are thinking long term as opposed to short term, and that's not something you see every day."
Nathan's camp was first approached by the Twins about an extension in early February. The two sides went through a brief stalemate period before talks heated up again recently, and Pepe admitted that he was at times pessimistic over whether a deal would get done.
One sticking point early on in discussions between the two sides was Nathan's '08 contract. The closer's $6 million option for the upcoming season had been picked up by the Twins, but Nathan's camp preferred to wipe the slate clean, which they eventually did.
Antony, who negotiated the deal with Pepe, said the club felt that keeping Nathan was important for a few reasons. Among those was the fact that the team is entering 2008 with a very young rotation, and the Twins didn't want the team's confidence shaken by losing leads late in ballgames.
The club also didn't want to mess with the current roles for other pitchers in its bullpen, which has been among the best in baseball in recent seasons.
And there was a feeling that after watching other top-tier talent leave the organization, the Twins wanted to try and prevent that from happening with Nathan -- if he indeed wanted to stay.
Pepe said it was made clear to him that his client wanted to remain a Twin.
"That was unequivocal," Pepe said. "This is where he wants to be. My marching orders from him were 'I need a market deal and I want to stay with the Twins.'"
While Santana expressed after signing his $137.5 million deal with the Mets that he felt an "obligation" to the market, Nathan made it clear this offseason that he didn't feel the same way. His new contract doesn't set a precedent, but it puts him in the same price range as other elite closers in the game.
Nathan's contract is similar to the one the Reds gave free-agent closer Francisco Cordero this past offseason. Cordero signed a four-year, $46 million contract with a fifth-year option. That contract, along with Rivera's three-year, $45 million deal from the Yankees, is something Nathan said he felt already set a new bar for the closer's market.
Last season, Nathan expressed his desire to wait and see at the direction the organization was headed before making a decision on his future. But Nathan said on Monday that he knew fairly quickly that he wanted to stay after watching the Twins acquire players such as Delmon Young and Brendan Harris and secure Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to long-term deals this winter.
"In the offseason, you definitely saw a commitment to winning," Nathan said of the team's moves. "So it was a situation where, as long as I felt they were committed to that, I wanted to be on board."