Tag: Joe Nathan

Like Last Year, Justin Verlander Turning It on When Tigers Need It Most

Justin Verlander has struggled this year.  Actually, that’s a bit generous. 

Sugarcoating aside, he has been terrible.  His current 4.54 ERA is the second-highest of his career, and his strikeout total is at its lowest since 2006, his first full season in the big leagues.  His 1.40 WHIP is tied for the highest in his career, and he just hasn’t been the dominant ace he once was.

However, maybe that ace is starting to come back as the games become more important.  He pitched a gem two starts ago against the Royals, the Tigers’ biggest AL Central competitors, and outdueled White Sox ace Chris Sale on Wednesday.

In that start against Chicago, he was masterful.  He allowed seven hits, struck out six and did not walk a batter while pitching eight innings for only the second time all season.

Verlander’s recent performance is almost a carbon copy of last year’s.  He was not quite as bad in 2013 as he has been so far this year, but it seems that he is once again flipping a switch as October nears.

In last year’s postseason, Verlander took the team on his back, leading the Tigers past the Athletics with two stellar outings in the ALDS.  He started Games 2 and 5, and his two fantastic outings in those games brought back memories from his Cy Young-winning 2012 season. 

In Game 2, he struck out 11 in seven scoreless innings of work, but the Tigers couldn’t muster any offense and lost 1-0.  Then, with the season on the line in a winner-take-all Game 5, Verlander prolonged the season with 10 more strikeouts in eight scoreless innings, catapulting Detroit into the next round.

He turned in a similar effort in Game 3 of the ALCS, but the one run he gave up in eight innings was enough to get him the loss as the Tigers once again came out on the short side of a 1-0 game.

2014 has been eerily similar.  He started the season strong but ran into a wall in the second month of the season.  He pitched poorly in May, June and July, amassing ERAs of 5.54, 6.82 and 4.78, respectively.

He started pitching better in August, but then a debacle against the Pirates saw him pitch only one inning, give up five runs and then injure himself running to first after a sacrifice bunt.  That fluke injury forced him to miss some time, and it seemed like he and his team had both hit rock bottom.

Even after acquiring David Price from the Rays in a stunning trade minutes before the trade deadline, the Tigers were out of first place and in danger of missing the playoffs altogether.  The bullpen was so bad that some speculated about the Tigers inserting Verlander into the closer’s role for the postseason.

The Tigers decided to stick with Verlander in the rotation, and he has made good on that trust.  The Tigers are 6-1 in Verlander’s seven starts since returning to the rotation, and he has gotten the victory in five of those.

Detroit’s magic number is now three, meaning if a combination of Tigers wins and Royals losses reaches three, the Tigers clinch the division and avoid the treacherous one-off Wild Card Game.

If Verlander is right, which I think he is now, the Tigers are going to be scary over the course of a five- or seven-game playoff series.

An overpowering pitching rotation of Max Scherzer, David Price, Verlander and Rick Porcello will be very tough for any opponent, and the offense is pretty good as well.

Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez are two of the best hitters in the entire MLB, and the additions of Ian Kinsler and Rajai Davis give the lineup a dynamic it didn’t have last year.  For example, when Davis stole his 35th base of the season in Wednesday’s win against the White Sox, it matched the number of steals the Tigers stole as a team in 2013.

In last year’s playoff run that ended in the ALCS against the Red Sox, the offense did not have anything even resembling a running threat, forcing the Tigers to play base-to-base baseball, basically waiting for an extra-base hit or a string of hits to score runs.

Now, though, they have Davis, who has over 300 stolen bases in his career.  He has been one of the league’s most prolific base stealers over the past six years; he has averaged 42 steals over those years.  You can guarantee that if the Tigers are locked in a close game, Brad Ausmus will have the confidence to give Davis the green light to get into scoring position.

Back to pitching, the bullpen has been disastrous for most of the season.  The Tigers signed Joe Nathan in the offseason, but his ERA has been around five all year.  They acquired Joakim Soria at the deadline for some late-inning help, and Anibal Sanchez has returned from the disabled list as a reliever as well.

However, Verlander might be the X-factor.  Which one will show up: the terrific Verlander or the one with a 4.50 ERA?

If last year is any indication, Verlander will turn it on and be an ace.  If he can pitch at the same level he did in last year’s postseason, the Tigers have to be dark-horse candidates to advance all the way to the World Series.

The American League is loaded with the likes of the Angels, Orioles, and A’s, but with Verlander at his best, the Tigers have three Cy Young-caliber pitchers to go along with one of the best offenses in the league. 

It’s going to come down to Verlander, and if he is up to the task, watch out for the Detroit Tigers.

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Will Joe Nathan Finally Solve the Tigers’ Ninth-Inning Achilles’ Heel?

For the first time in what feels like forever, there’s no doubt about who will be taking care of things in the ninth inning for the Detroit Tigers. Rather than a day-by-day question mark, the club now has a clear strength at the closer position.

To a certain degree, anyway.

Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi of FOXSports.com were the first to report on Tuesday that the Tigers were closing in on a deal for veteran closer Joe Nathan. Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com has reported that the two sides are in agreement on a two-year contract:

Ken Rosenthal has the financial terms:

It’s not a shocker that Nathan has been drawn to the Tigers. It was just a couple of weeks ago that he professed his love for the organization on MLB Network Radio. Via MLB.com’s Jason Beck:

I definitely love the Tigers, know them very well, having competed against that squad for so many years when I was with the Twins, knowing some of the guys over there, knowing how deep they are, rotation deep. Their lineup and offense obviously are impressive. I think one of the things is that their defense has definitely improved. It’s a good ballpark to play in, a good crowd to play in front of. Detroit’s definitely a very appealing and attractive team to look at, I think.

The 39-year-old right-hander has spent the last two years closing games for the Texas Rangers. And since the Rangers declined to make Nathan a qualifying offer, signing him doesn’t mean a lost draft pick for the Tigers.

That’s not to say there aren’t any strings attached to this deal, however. It’s coming less than 24 hours after the Tigers traded right-handed starter Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for spare parts. They saved themselves from having to pay Fister a raise of a couple million dollars in arbitration, and it looks like that money is being rerouted into a contract for Nathan instead.

If that’s the case, it’s hard to see the logic. Even swapping out an average starter for a closer isn’t such a good idea. Swapping out one of the game’s best starting pitchers for a closer is certainly not a good idea.

But sure, we can be optimistic for a moment or two. While swapping out Fister for Nathan doesn’t look so great, it has to be granted that the Tigers are better off in the ninth inning now than they were before.

Ever since Jose Valverde went 49-for-49 in save opportunities in 2011, the Tigers’ issues at closer have been well-documented. Valverde’s ERA rose from 2.24 in 2011 to 3.78 in 2012, and he pitched himself out of a job with a series of rotten performances in the postseason.

Things were better in 2013…Sort of.

After some early uncertainty, Joaquin Benoit took over Detroit’s closer role in June and finished the season with a 1.98 ERA and 22 saves in 24 tries in his final 41 appearances. But both of his blown saves came in the final week of the regular season, and he was the one who gave up David Ortiz’s series-shifting grand slam in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series.

Now along comes Nathan, who brings with him one of the most impressive closer resumes in major-league history.

With Mariano Rivera retired, Nathan is MLB’s active saves leader with 341, and he’s the only member of the 300-save club with fewer than 40 career blown saves (he has 38). For some perspective, Nathan has as many career saves as Hall of Fame member Rollie Fingers, but 29 fewer blown saves.

Then there’s what Nathan did in 2013. Courtesy of FanGraphs, here are the key numbers:

The 1.39 ERA Nathan posted was the second lowest of his career after the 1.33 ERA he posted in 2008, and that 2.5 fWAR was his best since 2006.

That 2.5 fWAR also put Nathan in elite company among his contemporaries. It tied him for third among qualified relievers, behind only Greg Holland and Koji Uehara, and ahead of Craig Kimbrel.

To be fair to Benoit, he had a darn good season in his own right, finishing with a 2.01 ERA and a 1.6 fWAR that tied him for ninth among qualified relievers. When Benoit had the ball, the Tigers were quietly in pretty good hands right up until he ran out of gas at the end of the season.

Based on both track records and 2013 performance, however, going from Benoit to Nathan is undeniably a significant upgrade for the Tigers. One way to put it is that they’ve gone from solid closer to “proven closer.”

If you’re looking for the inevitable catch, however, here it is: Nathan shouldn’t be expected to be the otherworldly dominant closer he was in 2013 all over again in 2014.

The Steamer projections for Nathan, which you can view at FanGraphs, see his ERA going from 1.39 to 2.70 and his WAR from 2.5 to 0.8. “Regression” is the word that fits, and it’s fair to expect Nathan to experience some of that regardless of the numbers he ends up with.

As good as Nathan is, his 2013 season was a classic case of everything going right all at once. Here are a couple of things that stand out:

Since line drives are more likely to result in hits than any other type of batted ball, it doesn’t make sense that Nathan’s BABIP decreased despite a line-drive percentage much higher than usual. It also doesn’t make sense that he saw so few fly balls go over the fence despite a relatively normal fly-ball percentage. 

Especially not in light of Nathan’s more recent history. From 2008 to 2012, his HR/FB rate was over nine percent each year, and rising to boot. He did add a sinker to his arsenal along the way, but it didn’t play that much of a role in 2013.

Per Brooks Baseball, Nathan’s sinker only accounted for about 15 percent of his pitches. And while it did pick up more ground balls than his four-seamer, his sinker didn’t get in the way of him posting one of the lowest ground-ball rates of his career at an even 32 percent.

Elsewhere, it also doesn’t make much sense that Nathan’s strikeout rate finished above his career norm despite a swinging-strike rate below his career norm. Contributing to the suspicion is how, according to Brooks Baseball, the whiff/swing rate on Nathan’s four-seamer rose even while its velocity fell.

For that matter, the velocity on all of Nathan’s pitches—four-seamer, sinker, slider and curveball—fell in 2013. He still has good stuff as far as stuff goes, but hardly overpowering stuff relative to other closers and, indeed, what he used to feature.

For what it’s worth, the 0.8 fWAR that Steamer is projecting for Nathan in 2014 is twice as good as the 0.4 fWAR projected for Benoit, so the notion that the Tigers are better off at closer now than they were before still stands.

It’s also worth noting that Nathan’s projected fWAR is better than those projected for Fernando Rodney, Grant Balfour and Brian Wilson. The Tigers went after the best closer they could have possibly acquired on the free-agent market, and that’s what they should get in 2014.

To that end, the Tigers’ agreement with Nathan is a case of mission accomplished.

But because it’s hard to imagine Nathan repeating the season he had in 2013, this agreement is less than a slam dunk destined to go down as one of general manager Dave Dombrowski’s all-time greatest moves. And while Nathan is a fine addition to Detroit’s bullpen, it’s hard to say with a straight face that it looks like a better overall team after parting with Fister on Monday.

The Tigers may have a shiny new closer lined up for 2014, but they’re not better positioned to win the World Series than they were a day ago.


Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.


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Updates on Joe Nathan and Detroit Tigers Reportedly Agreeing to 2-Year Contract

The Detroit Tigers‘ biggest weakness over the past couple seasons has arguably been their lack of a top-flight closer to finish games, but that is no longer an issue. According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Detroit has agreed to sign a two-year deal with Joe Nathan:

Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports gave us a bit of information about how much the contract is worth:

Nathan is 39 years of age, but he hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down since joining the Texas Rangers in 2012. Nathan racked up 80 saves in two years with Texas, and he is now tied for 10th with Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers on the all-time saves list with 341.

Much like the recently retired Mariano Rivera, Nathan seems to be improving with age. He may have had the best season of his career in 2013 with 43 saves, a 1.39 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP.    

Aside from an uncharacteristically bad season in 2011 with the Minnesota Twins, Nathan has at least 36 saves in each year since becoming a closer in 2004. He has also registered an ERA below 2.00 on five occasions during that time frame.

Signing Nathan is a major coup for the Tigers, as they have run through a number of different closers in recent years. Detroit found some stability with Joaquin Benoit late in the 2013 season, but the bullpen will be much better off if he can transition back to a setup role.

The Tigers lost to the San Francisco Giants in the 2012 World Series, and the awful pitching of then-closer Jose Valverde was a big reason for that. Detroit made it that far in spite of Valverde, and it has been apparent since then that the Tigers have desperately needed a reliable stopper.

Matt Snyder of CBSSports.com weighed in on what the signing meant for Detroit:

The signing here makes a ton of sense for both parties. Nathan is at the point in his career where he surely only wants to play for contenders in pursuit of his first World Series ring. The Tigers’ back-end of the bullpen needed bolstering, as last year’s closer, Joaquin Benoit, is a free agent. Drew Smyly is surely ticketed for the rotation, too, with Doug Fister having been traded. Even if Bruce Rondon takes the huge step forward, of which he’s certainly capable, Nathan gives the Tigers a go-to guy at the back who has proven reliable for the better part of a decade.

Torii Hunter talked about Nathan’s arrival with Bob Nightengale of USA Today:

“I’m glad he joined the team,” Tigers right fielder Torii Hunter told USA TODAY Sports. “With his experience, he just made us stronger. He was a lot of fun when we played together in Minnesota.

“He wants the ball every day, if he could.”

Few are better or more consistent than Nathan, and he’ll likely be happy to reunite with Rangers teammate Ian Kinsler. The Tigers acquired Kinsler from the Rangers in exchange for first baseman Prince Fielder in a recent trade, so Detroit has gone to great lengths to make improvements this offseason.

Assuming Nathan is able to maintain the form he displayed this past season, the Tigers suddenly look like a much more formidable team heading into 2014.


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Texas Rangers vs. St. Louis Cardinals Live Blog: Live Updates and Analysis

The Texas Rangers (42-32) defeated the St. Louis Cardinals (47-37) 6-4 at Busch Stadium on Friday night.

Neal Cotts (4-1) earned the win in relief, Trevor Rosenthal (1-1) suffered his first loss and Joe Nathan tallied his 23rd save of the season.

Nelson Cruz led the way with three RBI and Derek Holland recovered from a rough start to throw seven innings and receive a no-decision.

Holland gave up four runs on four hits in the first two innings, but would settle down and retire the final 12 hitters he faced. He walked three and struck out four in a strong finish. He also went 0-for-2 at the plate with a walk and a run scored.

Tyler Lyons started for the Cardinals but only lasted 1.2 innings giving up four runs on three hits with three walks. Lyons is now winless in his last four starts. The Cardinals have the best record in baseball, but are just 5-5 in their last 10.

Allen Craig added a two-run double to increase his season total to 57 RBI. Carlos Beltran earned his 46th RBI in the first inning, but flew out to the wall in left-center field to end the game.

This was the Rangers’ first regular season trip to Busch Stadium and the first since Game 7 of the 2011 World Series.

The Rangers lost games six and seven in Busch Stadium en route to their second consecutive World Series loss. It was the Cardinals’ 11th World Series title.

Saturday’s Game 2 is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. and features Martin Perez (0-1) against Shelby Miller (8-4).

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2012 MLB Closer Profile: Joe Nathan, Texas Rangers

This one can get a bit sensitive and touchy.

I believe that Joe Nathan is hands down one of the greatest closers. 

When healthy, he can be one of the most dominating forces, with a lethal fastball that he locates well and a slider and curveball to compliment it. 

The reason that this analysis can get sensitive is because even I’ve lost faith in him. 

Nathan came back last year for the Minnesota Twins and looked uncomfortable.  He opened the season as the Twins closer, but quickly lost the job after only three saves.  He spent most of June on the DL and finally got the closer job back in mid-July. 

He notched 11 saves from July 16th through the rest of the season. 

The most important part of last season to look at is from mid-July till the end of the season.  Nathan was playing for a contract and to prove to himself and everyone else that he was back. 

Before he regained the closer role, his ERA stood at 5.56.  His numbers looked alright.  He recorded 21 of 43 strikeouts in the time period and dropped his ERA down to 4.84. Still, Nathan wasn’t dominant.  His fastball lost some juice and his curveball isn’t breaking the same. 

At 36, Nathan is entering the twilight of his career.  His velocity is slowing down and, therefore, so is his effectiveness.  I think the Rangers are taking a considerable chance with Nathan as their closer. 

Don’t  get me wrong on my analysis, Nathan could have a great season for the Rangers.  He will certainly get plenty of save chances. 

The question is, can he still get the job done? Are you willing to risk your fantasy team on a closer like Nathan?  I guess it all depends where you draft him. 

The Closer Report 2012 Projections: 32 Sv – 2 Wins – 3.45 ERA – 1.22 WHIP – 72 Ks 

2012 Fantasy Draft Analysis:

Nathan is being drafted higher than I expected, at a ADP of 184.  That is ahead of Jason Motte and Huston Street. 

In my eyes, that is ridiculous. 

Granted, it’s the sixteenth round and there is a whole lot of risk in that round, I just wouldn’t chance picking Joe Nathan until round 18 or 19.  There are healthy, better closers to pick over the aging Nathan.

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Joe Nathan May Be Done as Closer but the Minnesota Twins Aren’t Done with Him

After losing to Johnny Damon and the Tampa Bay Rays twice in three days via walk offs, the 5-10 Minnesota Twins have stripped the closing title from Joe Nation and replaced him with Matt Capps.

But don’t think it’s the last time you’ll see Joe Nathan in a Twins uniform in the ninth inning.

People in baseball have become spoiled by pitchers who have made quick recoveries from Tommy John Surgery, but it is a tough process to go through.

“I figured it would be easier for me to go to them than for them to come to me,” said Nathan to Dawn Klemish of MLB.com, “Until I start getting [consistency] back—and I know I will in some time—until I do, I don’t want to put this team at any risk, or cost them any ballgames right now.

“We’re all scuffling right now a little bit, so the games that we do have, I’d like us to get those taken care of and get those finished up.”

Notice that most of the pitchers who came back from Tommy John Surgery were starting pitchers. It will take a while for Nathan to get back into form since after all, it is still April.

Right now, having Nathan in the six or seventh inning might actually be a good thing for the Minnesota Twins. He can be effective with out the pressure while he’s getting back in full swing and they’ll have Matt Capps, who last year was one of the best closers in the game as a member of the Washington Nationals.

Matt Capps has given up four runs in nine innings so far this season, which isn’t that bad but it’s not that good either. He did work in a perfect inning against the Tampa Bay Rays to get his first save of the season.

The Twins will face the Rays again next week in Target Field, after two series against the upstart Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians.

I project Joe Nathan to be back in the closing role by the time the Twins take on the Rays for the final time before the All Star Break.

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Minnesota Twins Changeup: Matts Capps Replaces Joe Nathan as Closer

One of the many questions entering the 2011 season for the Twins was “Will Joe Nathan be ready?”

Twins faithful got their answer and that answer is apparently no.

The ball club announced that last seasons trade deadline acquisition Matt Capps will take over the closer role while Nathan tries to fully regain his composure. Nathan had two blown save opportunities on Thursday and then again on Saturday which prompted the move.

“Until I start getting that back, and I know I will at some time, I don’t want to put this team at any risk and cost them ballgames right now,” Nathan said. “I just thought it was the right thing to do for the ballclub and myself. Give myself a chance to get out there and still pitch on a consistent basis. Obviously that’s what I need to do. Getting away from where every pitch could cost us a game.”

Capps picked up the save in a 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays Sunday, his first save as the Twins’ official closer.

The Twins are dealing with a double-edged sword of sorts here. On the one hand, they will get consistent work out of Capps, whom they traded catching prospect Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for. But on the other hand, you want Nathan to be your man at the end as the Twins bullpen can’t take too much more weakening.

Prior to the switch, Capps was the Twins’ setup man and Nathan was the closer. Now Capps is the man and the Twins will cycle through setup men.

Nathan’s recent woes are not really much of a surprise. It was naive to think he would come back from Tommy John surgery and be 100 percent. Nathan missed all of the 2010 season due to the surgery and many doubted he would ever come back given his age and the severity of the surgery.

But Nathan passed all spring training tests and made his triumphant return during the Twins’ first series of the year in Toronto.

After that Nathan’s ERA would skyrocket to 8.44 in six games despite saving his previous three chances prior to Thursday. Even before the surgery, Nathan has shown signs of trouble in the ninth. He’s still one of the better closers in the league, but he still doesn’t provide a rock solid confidence when he enters the game.

Nathan will now have time to work on his stuff before he makes his second return. He spoke with manager Ron Gardenhire and pitching coach Rick Anderson about possibly taking a hiatus from closing after he allowed two runs in a third of an inning Saturday.

Nathan is just one of many depleted Twins as stars Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are both struggling with illnesses. Mauer is on the 15-day DL and Morneau sat out Sunday’s win in Tampa. Nathan hopes he’ll be back sooner, and better than ever.

“We’re definitely close, it’s not like I’m miles away,” Nathan said. “I don’t think this is too far off.”

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The One Who Got Away: A Look at Brian Sabean’s Best & Worst Pitching Trades

The 2011 baseball season is upon us, and that can only mean one thing for eager fans: a fresh start.  With hopes of celebratory bliss, you announce confidently, “this is our year,” as you retrieve the enormous foam finger lodged behind your bed. The once prized possession is now dusted with crumb remnants and dead ants. 

While one’s prophecies for the upcoming season may be nothing more than fantasy, players must approach each year with the goal to maintain past success, improve on past failures, or return from an injury, thus proving they still are one of the elite.  No player is more eager to prove he can return to greatness than Minnesota Twins closer Joe Nathan.    

Nathan made great progress this spring and has reestablished himself as Minnesota’s closer to open the season. This tale, however, is not about Nathan’s return to the mound.  This is a tortuous reminder to all San Francisco Giants fans who still cringe when his name is spoken. A four-time All-Star, Nathan is nothing less than a savior to Minnesota  faithful, but to Giants aficionados, like the ex-girlfriend you let slip through your fingers when you stupidly answered yes to “do these jeans make me look fat,” he is merely the one who got away.  

This June, the Twins will visit San Francisco for the first time since the 2003 trade that sent Nathan to Minnesota. Like a nerd coming back for his twenty-year reunion driving a Porsche, and sporting a hot blonde on his arm, the elite closer will return with a chest full of accolades acquired since.

In November of 2003, Giants General Manager Brian Sabean, traded Nathan, along with Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano,  for catcher A.J. Piersynksi.  At the time, everything appeared safe.  Piersynksi was a player about to hit his prime at a hard-to- fill position, and only Nathan had any major league experience at that point. The result?  You’d be hard pressed to find one person who would argue against it being the worst trade in San Francisco’s history.

Sabean has made a career of upsetting fans at the time of a deal yet, somehow, many work out in the end.  So what happened with this one?  Was the departure of these now American League all-stars a result of miscalculation, poor scouting, and an itchy trigger finger, or just an anomaly, resulting in a case of inauspicious hindsight? 

How has Sabean really fared in his assessment of young pitching talent? At this point everyone knows the names Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez and Bumgarner, but that staff didn’t get assembled without some bumps in the road; Nate Bumps to be exact.

Below are some of Sabean’s trades involving young pitchers. Some left fans day dreaming of memories past, while others left fellow GMs holding a bag of Sabean Fool’s Gold.  


4. Jeremy Accardo to Toronto for Vinnie Chulk & Shea Hillenbrand (July 2006)

Sure, Accardo hasn’t amounted to a whole lot since; however, the year after he was traded he racked up 30 saves and a 2.14 ERA for Toronto while loathed Giant closer Armando Benetiz saved just nine games, blew a handful of others and was traded mid-season.  

3. David Aardsma & Jerome Williams to Chicago Cubs for LaTroy Hawkins (May 2005)

Aardsma, one of many first round picks Sabean has dealt during his tenure, bounced around for a few seasons before finally settling in as the closer for Seattle in 2009.  That year he saved 38 games then followed it up with 31 in 2010.  When healthy, he is slated for closing duties again this season, proving to be a valued commodity in the Mariner’s bullpen.  Would the Giants have wanted to wait four years for a guy who would’ve just pissed off the team seamstress by using up all her “A” letters?  The prognosis is no, but good bullpen help is always hard to find, especially one with closing ability – just ask Armando Benetiz haters. 

2. Keith Foulke, Bobby Howry & others for Wilson Alvarez, Danny Darwin & Roberto Hernandez (July 1997)

All three players obtained somewhat helped bring a National League West title to San Francisco in 1997, but Sabean left the dog door open and Keith Foulke quietly escaped into the night to go on to save 191 career games, as well as bring a World Series title to Boston in 2004.  See aforementioned prognosis for Aardsma, minus the nagging seamstress.

1. Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano & Boof Bonser for A.J. Piersynksi (November 2003)

Looking to upgrade the catcher position after the departure of Benito Santiago, Sabean made what is regarded the worst trade of his tenure, giving up Nathan, Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser, for problematic A.J. Piersynksi. Bonser, rated the 29th best prospect in 2002 was actually the prized piece of the deal, but he isn’t the one fans have lost sleep over. He has been no better than a 5th starter for any team since the deal. Liriano took the A.L. by storm when he broke into the majors a year later, and after being derailed by an arm injury he has once again established himself as one of the best lefties in the game atop the Twins rotation.   Nathan has gone on to make four all-star appearances, and has been one of the game’s best closers over the past six seasons.   

Piersysnki was released the following season.


5.  Jason Grilli & Nate Bump to Florida for Livan Hernandez (July 1999) 

Rarely in any sport do you see consecutive year first round picks traded in the same deal, but when the Giants dealt for inning-eater Livan Hernandez at the trade deadline in 1999 this rarity became a reality.  Grilli, the fourth overall pick in 1997 seemed poised for a brilliant major league career, but Sabean sent the Seton Hall alum to Miami along with 1998 first rounder Nate Bump.

Grilli was a top 50 prospect at the time, and Bump had shown promise in the minors, posting a sub 1.75 ERA in each of his first two seasons. Dealing two 1st round prospects for a pitcher who was 5-9 at the time would make even the most unknowledgeable fan question sanity, but amazingly Sabean came out smelling like a rose.   

Hernandez went on to win 45 games for the Giants while Grilli became nothing more than a journeyman reliever. Nate Bump pitched in just three partial seasons for Florida with the last being in 2005. 

4. Jesse Foppert (and Yorvit Torrealba) to Seattle for Randy Winn (July 2005)

Foppert, the fifth rated prospect by Baseball America in 2003 was San Francisco’s Lincecum, before there was Lincecum. He had a promising 2003 and was a fixture in the starting rotation for a team that won the National League Western Division, but promise quickly turned to pain killers as multiple injuries to his throwing elbow sent his career into a tailspin.

Before the completion of his comeback Sabean sent the once can’t-miss prospect to Seattle for consistent, but not flashy, Randy Winn.  Despite the injuries, the Bay Area product was a fan favorite, and many were sad to see him go. In the end it was the right move. Winn went on to start in right field for SF for the next four and a half seasons, and was seventh in the N.L. in hitting in 2008.  Foppert never pitched in the Majors again.  

3. Kurt Ainsworth (and Damian Moss) to Baltimore for Sidney Ponson (July 2003) 

Another first round pick (1999), Ainsworth followed the orange and black brick road right out of San Francisco, like his fellow first rounders of the past.  Like Foppert, Ainsworth cracked the rotation in 2003, posting a winning record and sub-4 ERA in 11 starts, but was traded before the deadline for often lazy and rarely effective Sidney Ponson.

Ponson won only three games the rest of year for SF, and cost the Giants in additional food catering services due to his insatiable appetite, but once again Sabean made the right call.  Ainsworth would pitch only two innings in the Majors after the trade, and is rumored to be working in the giraffe exhibit at a Baltimore zoo.  (Don’t get me wrong, giraffes are amazing creatures – I’m just saying.)

2. Tim Alderson to Pittsburgh for Freddie Sanchez (July 2009)

In what was regarded as a bit of a haphazard deal at the time, Sabean dealt the No. 2 prospect in the organization for a powerless and injury plagued second baseman.  At the time of the trade, Freddie Sanchez couldn’t even play due to injury.  Who trades the 45th ranked Major League prospect and his miniscule ERA for a beaten up player who can’t even suit up?   Could he have traded for someone better at the time? Yes. Could he have given up a lesser prospect to get Sanchez? Yes.  Did the trade work out?

Alderson posted a whopping 6.03 ERA in 25 minor league starts in 2010 and was demoted to Single-A before season’s end.  Sanchez went on to help San Francisco bring home its first World Championship, contributing with three doubles to set a World Series record in Game 1, and will take the field on opening day 2011.  Enough said.

1. Ryan Vogelsong (and Armando Rios) to Pittsburgh for Jason Schmidt (July 30th, 2001) 

Ok, so Ryan Vogelsong can hardly be considered a prospect, but then again neither was Jason Schmidt at the time.  Schmidt immediately blossomed in the organization, establishing himself as one of the top pitchers in the National League and led the team to post-season births in 2002 and 2003. Vogelsong amassed 10 wins over six seasons with the Pirates. He is now back with the organization this spring vying for a spot on San Francisco’s opening day roster. 

Honorable Mention:

Not trading Tim Lincecum for Alex Rios (after 2007 season)

San Francisco was desperate for a bat, and Lincecum was an emerging superstar.  The deal was more than just a rumor, but luckily dissipated like a phantom in the night once cries were heard from Giant faithful. 

All in all, Sabean has done a decent job at assessing pitching talent, confidently trading away first round pick after first round pick, only to see them flounder in their new homes. He has created one of the best starting pitching staffs and despite it taking 17 years, he hasn’t given up a whole lot (other than a guy 30th on the all-time saves list, one of the best left-handed starters in the American League and a guy who was on the mound when the Red Sox brought home a Championship after 86 years). 

When Nathan comes trotting out of the bullpen later this season during his team’s stop in San Franciso, Giant fans can dream about what could have been, but ultimately be happy about what has been. 

Sabean has been forgiven. 

Go Giants. 

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

MLB Trade Ideas: Five Moves AL Central Teams Can Make to Become Early Favorites

We’re counting down the hours to the start of baseball season.  Hopes are high in Minneapolis, Chicago and Detroit and not so much in Cleveland and Kansas City, as the AL Central race is about to get under way.

Most pundits have the Twins, White Sox and Tigers battling it out for the division title while the Royals and Indians play hot potato for last place.

All of the expected front runners have their weaknesses and could use a little more help as the season rolls on.  There are a bunch of players that will be, or are, available who could help each team in this division.

I’ll propose one player acquisition for each team in the division that could push them over the top as the favorite to win the division.

For baseball purists, I’m not taking salaries, WAR stats, BABIP, etc., into account here.  This is just for fun and it’s trying to match up a player who’s either unhappy, on a terrible team or on an expiring contract in his current situation and extracting him from there and putting him on a AL Central team.

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MLB Power Rankings: Identifying the 10 Best Late-Round Fantasy Draft Steals

This article will identify the 10 best late-round fantasy draft steals.

When I identify these players, I will make reference to the draft I participated in with Yahoo! in terms of when these players were drafted.  I will also examine where Yahoo! has ranked said players overall and how that affects where they are taken in the draft.  I will also examine why these players would pay huge dividends for any fantasy team.

However, you should note that I am not trying to find you the next Jose Bautista, I am merely giving you elite players that you can wait until later to grab in the draft and be considered a genius.  So, without further ado…Let us begin!

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