It’s official, the Minnesota Twins will be without All-Star closer Joe Nathan for the 2010 campaign.
Nathan elected to undergo Tommy John ligament replacement surgery today after feeling continued pain and discomfort following a bullpen session with pitching coach Rick Anderson.
"Didn’t go like we hoped," Nathan said. "We knew it was a long shot, but what this did do is clear my head.”
Nathan was originally diagnosed with a “significant tear” of his ulnar collateral ligament two weeks ago after he abruptly left an exhibition game against the Boston Red Sox after just 20 pitches.
At the time he decided to rest the injury and then test it one more time before deciding whether or not to undergo the procedure.
It is believed that Nathan will undergo the surgery as soon as possible in an attempt to rejoin the club by Opening Day next season.
"Any time you’re going to be out for the season—but especially the timing of this, with this ballclub, this new stadium, the excitement—it’s definitely tough," Nathan said. "But right now I’ve got to take care of myself and get myself ready for next year."
Nathan, 35, is coming off a year in which he set the franchise record for saves with 47 and posted a 2.10 ERA, a .932 WHIP and earned a trip to his fourth All-Star Game.
Needless to say, the club will have a hard time finding anyone to legitimately fill Nathan’s shoes.
The club has, however, been exploring potential replacement options for Nathan since the initial word broke two weeks ago.
In that time the Twins have been linked to the like of Heath Bell and Kerry Wood as potential trade candidates.
The more likely option, however, is that Nathan’s replacement will come from within the organization.
Right-handers Jon Rauch and Matt Guerrier are largely believed to be the front-runners with lefty Jose Mijares a distant third.
Rauch has some experience—albeit limited—in the role from his time in Washington and figures to get the first crack at the job.
Mijares has long been touted as having “closer stuff” on the mound, but many—seemingly including manager Ron Gardenhire—question whether he has the mental makeup to handle the role.
Guerrier has good stuff and a cool head to pitch late in important, high-pressure situations. He is also, however, very valuable as a setup man and Gardenhire loves to use him in multiple-inning situations.
It’s entirely possible that Guerrier’s success in his current role will prevent him from taking over as the club’s closer.
A popular dark horse candidate is current Twins farmhand Anthony Slama.
Slama has looked good in Spring Training, posting eight strikeouts, one walk, one win and a 0.00 ERA in four innings pitched.
He has a proven track record a closer in the minor leagues and appears to have all the intangibles it takes to be a big league closer.
With Opening Day just two weeks away, the race for the closer role is now officially up for grabs and—for all intents and purposes—wide open.
If nothing else, today’s unfortunate news should make for a compelling final two weeks of Spring Training.