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With Capps, is Nathan expendable?

Published 11:47am Friday, July 30, 2010

It took Francisco Liriano four years to return to form after having Tommy John surgery in 2006. Luckily for the Twins, he was only 22 years old and making just $327,000 a year.

The Twins’ most recent elbow to go under the knife is Joe Nathan’s, who is 35 and makes a staggering $11 million a year – a lot even for arguably the best closer in baseball.

Then there’s Matt Capps. The newest Twin was a National League All-Star this season, is 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA and has saved 21 games in 25 chances. He is only 26 years old and makes $3.5 million a year. Capps is also arbitration eligible in the off-season, increasing the chances he’ll be in a Twins uniform through the 2011 season.

So what does all this mean?

If the Twins could unload Nathan, that would open up the opportunity to sign Capps and a player like Jason Kubel or Michael Cuddyer long-term, or extend Delmon Young’s contract.

Kubel and Cuddyer are free agent eligible starting in 2011 and 2012, respectively.

Kubel’s contract has a $5.2 million team option which the club will certainly pick up, but Cuddyer’s contract ends after next season.

Young’s contract is less of a priority, as his $2.6 million a year contract runs through 2012; arbitration eligible in 2011. Young’s MVP-caliber play this season will make him more pricey, but as we’ve learned from the Tampa Bay Rays and Evan Longoria, it’s cheaper to lock up young studs early and for more years.

All three of these players are important to the Twins’ future and with Capps around, Nathan isn’t.

Right now, it seems like an impossibility to trade Nathan. He’s old, makes a ton of money and had his throwing elbow surgically repaired less than five months ago.

For $2 million, the Twins can buy out Nathan’s contract in 2012, though, possibly saving them enough money to sign Capps and a bat long-term.

I love Nathan, Twins fans love Nathan, but as much as he was a financial burden on the Twins before he got hurt, he’s even more of one now.

Second Thoughts is a column and blog written by Sports Editor Andrew Dyrdal. It appears throughout the week online and in Tuesday’s editions of the Albert Lea Tribune.