DETROIT (AP) — 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 two-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 Wednesday, two days after trading right-handed starter 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's 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 two-year agreement, and the Tigers were willing to give it to him.
Now that Mariano Rivera has retired, Nathan is baseball's active leader with 341 saves. He's pitched for San Francisco, Minnesota and Texas — and he's 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 the season with 24 saves in 26 chances, but in Game 2 of the AL championship series, he allowed a tying grand slam by Boston's David Ortiz that was a turning point in the series. The Red Sox went on to win in six games, rallying against the Detroit bullpen again in the finale.
Besides trading Fielder and Fister, the Tigers hired Brad Ausmus to replace manager Jim Leyland, who stepped down. The changes will be clear on the field next season.
Dombrowski said Wednesday that Miguel Cabrera will move from third base to first — a switch that seemed likely from the moment Fielder was traded. The Tigers are hoping Nick Castellanos can take over at third.
After trading Fister, the Tigers are prepared to move promising left-hander Drew Smyly from the bullpen to the starting rotation. The bullpen will look a lot different next year, especially since Dombrowski says Benoit is unlikely to be back. Detroit declined an option on right-hander Jose Veras, and the Tigers got left-hander Ian Krol in the deal this week with Washington.
Dombrowski said he wouldn't think the Tigers would be involved in any other major moves in free agency, although Detroit has been known to pull off an occasional surprise, whether it's a free agent signing or a trade.
The general manager was asked if the team is now better positioned to sign somebody to a long-term deal, such as Tigers right-hander Max Scherzer, who won the American League Cy Young Award this year and is a free agent after next season.
"Well I wouldn't use any specific names, but I'd say — yes, we are," Dombrowski said. "You try to win in the short term, which we're trying to do. We're doing everything we can. But you're also trying to maintain long-term success, so you're always trying to work on both of those things."