By Dave Campbell
AP Sports Writer
MINNEAPOLIS -- After declining a hefty option on Joe Nathan's contract, the Minnesota Twins are in the market for a closer.
Maybe Joe Nathan.
The Twins decided Tuesday to buy out the last year of Nathan's deal for $2 million instead of paying him $12.5 million, but general manager Bill Smith said he called Nathan and his agent to inform them of the move and told them the team wants to re-sign the right-hander.
Nathan will be a free agent after the World Series.
"We will look at all our options internally, but we're certainly going to look at all of our options out there. Again, Joe Nathan's at the top of the list," Smith said.
Nathan, who became the club's all-time leader in career saves this season with 260, worked his way back from Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on his elbow in less than a full calendar year and regained the closer's role coming out of spring training.
He struggled to find life on his fastball, though, blew a couple of early save opportunities and finished April with an ERA of 10.00. Matt Capps took the job back three weeks into the season, and Nathan was relegated to mop-up situations before going on the disabled list in late May with recurring soreness in the elbow.
But Nathan returned in late June and unseated the struggling Capps in mid-July as the closer, quietly finishing the season strongly despite the Twins being far out of contention. Nathan's second-half statistics were better than his pre-All-Star-break numbers all across the board, with final totals of 14 saves in 17 chances and a 4.84 ERA over 44-plus innings. He will turn 37 in November.
"When he came back, he came back to get outs," Smith said. "When the manager asked him to close, he was ready for challenge."
Capps will be a free agent, too, but left-hander Glen Perkins had a breakthrough year in the bullpen and leads the list of internal candidates if Nathan signs elsewhere. He said last month he'd like to stay in Minnesota and that he felt his solid second half proved he can pitch at an All-Star level.
"That's what my ultimate goal was coming into the season, just to get back to form and show this organization or other clubs, if I'm not back here, that I am back to form and as close now as I can be to being back to form without getting some rest that I need," Nathan said at the end of the season.