Closing things out for the Minnesota Twins 50th Anniversary All-Time team is the club's all-time saves leader, Joe Nathan.
Drafted as an infielder by the San Francisco Giants out of SUNY-Stony Brook, Nathan was converted to a pitcher and made his major league debut with the Giants in 1999. He worked as a starter for his first two seasons before injuring his arm and missing the entire 2001 season. He bounced back nicely as a reliever and recorded a fine season in 2003, going 12-4 with a 2.96 ERA in 78 games and 79.0 innings out of the San Francisco bullpen. When the Twins acquired him along with minor league pitchers Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano for catcher A.J. Pierzynski (in one of the most one-sided trades in recent baseball history), the thought was that Nathan would replace the recently-departed Eddie Guardado as the Twins' closer. This was a bit of a stretch, given that Nathan had recorded a total of one save prior to the trade.
Instead, the Twins' thinking was completely validated by one of the best seasons ever posted by a Twins' reliever. In 63 games, Nathan tossed 72.1 innings, pitched to a 1.62 ERA, recorded 44 saves in 47 opportunities, and struck out 89 batters against just 23 walks. For his efforts, Nathan was named to his first All-Star Game and finished fourth in the AL Cy Young balloting. Not bad for a first-year closer.
Nathan continued his dominance in 2005 for a Twins team which finished third in the AL Central. Nathan's ERA jumped from 1.62 to 2.70, but he still recorded 43 saves in 48 opportunities, and was named to his second All-Star Game. Nathan recorded 36 saves in 2006 and 37 more in 2007, and was considered one of the game's elite closers.
Signed to a new contract in 2008, Nathan responded with a tremendous season. In 67.2 innings, Nathan struck out 74 batters against just 18 walks, recorded a 1.33 ERA, notched 39 saves in 45 opportunities, and made his third All-Star Game for a Twins' team which tied the Chicago White Sox for the division title. In 2009, Nathan broke the Twins' all-time saves mark, previously held by Rick Aguilera, and also recorded a club-best 47 saves (in 52 opportunities).
For his career in Minnesota, Nathan has posted a 22-12 mark with 246 saves in 274 opportunities (a staggering 89.8% success rate), notched a 1.87 ERA, has struck out 518 batters in 418.2 innings, and has walked only 120 men in that span.
Despite his problems against the New York Yankees throughout his career, Nathan remains one of baseball's best closers at the age of 35. He will be in Minnesota through 2011 (with a club option for 2012) and the Twins are set knowing that their bullpen issues lie in the innings leading to Nathan.
Also Considered: Jeff Reardon, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado