JOE NATHAN expects to fit in just fine in Detroit - and now the Tigers don't have to face the closer who has dominated them more than perhaps any other in baseball.
Nathan agreed with Detroit on a 2-year contract with a club option for 2016, enabling the Tigers to accomplish one of their main objectives this offseason by adding one of the game's most accomplished closers to the bullpen. The three-time defending AL Central champions announced the deal yesterday, 2 days after trading righthander Doug Fister to Washington. Terms were not disclosed.
"Why would I come here?" Nathan asked rhetorically. "I think the question is, why wouldn't I? This team is ready to win. They're ready to win now . . . It's not just about getting to the postseason. For me, it's about getting to the big one."
Nathan, who turned 39 last month, has never pitched in the World Series. He had 43 saves in 46 chances for the Texas Rangers last season.
It has been a busy offseason already for Detroit, which traded slugger Prince Fielder to Texas for Ian Kinsler in a move that, coupled with the trade of Fister, gave the Tigers more financial flexibility.
Detroit's bullpen was unsettled for much of last season. Joaquin Benoit eventually performed well as the closer, but he is now a free agent.
"A very big part of what we were trying to accomplish was to get a closer," general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "This was always a goal of ours."
Nathan posted a 1.39 ERA last season, then declined a $9 million option that would have kept him with the Rangers. Nathan wanted at least a 2-year agreement, and the Tigers were willing to give it to him.
Nathan is baseball's active leader with 341 saves. He has pitched for San Francisco, Minnesota and Texas - and he hass been particularly dominant when facing the Tigers, converting all 36 of his save chances with a 1.44 ERA.
That's more saves than any other pitcher has against the Tigers. Nathan even helped hand Detroit one of its most crushing losses in franchise history - he pitched in relief when the Twins beat the Tigers in extra innings of a one-game playoff for the 2009 division title.
"Probably the best game that I've ever been a part of," Nathan said. "Sorry to bring it up."
Nathan missed the 2010 season with the Twins following surgery on his right elbow. He struggled in 2011 but pitched well for the Rangers the last two seasons.
Detroit went into last season without a set closer, and after the Tigers brought Jose Valverde back and that didn't work, they went with Benoit. He finished with 24 saves in 26 chances.
* Paul Konerko, the Chicago White Sox' six-time All-Star slugger and team captain, is returning to the Chicago White Sox for another season under a 1-year, $2.5 million contract rather than retire at 37. The White Sox won just 63 games last season while Konerko struggled with a back issue and batted .244 with 12 homers and 54 RBI. He will play some first base and DH.
"I was really planning on last year being it for me - having a good year, solid year . . . Everything went to shambles," he said. "To have the opportunity to come back in a lesser role, I'm kind of a good employee to have because I have no future, no agenda."
* Righthander Ryan Vogelsong underwent a physical to finalize his 1-year, $5 million contract to stay with the San Francisco. The Giants declined to exercise Vogelsong's $6.5 million option on Nov. 4 and owed him a $300,000 buyout. His new deal includes performance bonuses for starts and innings pitched.
* Lefthander Scott Kazmir finalized his deal with Oakland (2 years, $22 million).
* Joe Garagiola was named the winner of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum gives the award to an individual for efforts to enhance baseball's positive impact on society. Garagiola, 87, played 9 years in the majors, had a long career in baseball broadcasting and founded the Baseball Assistance Team and the National Spit Tobacco Education Program.