Notes: Nathan contract talks quiet down
After early negotiations with Twins, closer takes 'step back'
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Closer Joe Nathan was one of the first arrivals at Hammond Stadium on Sunday morning, the official reporting day for Twins pitchers and catchers.But the biggest question is how many more of these report days Nathan may be taking part in as a Twin. Nathan is entering the final year of his contract, and his future status with the team has been up in the air. Despite many rumors this offseason that Nathan could be on the trading block, the Twins approached his agent, Dave Pepe, about a contract extension in the days following the trade of Johan Santana to the Mets earlier this month. But after what he deemed to be "good talks" with the Twins in the first few days of discussions, Nathan said that both sides have been silent for the past week and a half. "It just got to a point where my agent and I felt we needed to take a step back," Nathan said. "We wanted to let them know we don't feel that we are getting to where we feel comfortable -- whether it be the years or the numbers or whatever it is. It's just a spot where we felt like taking a step back to think about things and get back after it once we get to Spring Training." A year ago, the Twins and Nathan's camp opened up similar discussions for a contract extension. The two sides took a similar break then, as well, although Nathan admits that at the time, he knew that other players -- like Santana and former center fielder Torii Hunter -- were higher on the priority list. Despite the break in talks once again, Nathan said that he still feels like there is the chance of an extension being reached this time around. "We didn't feel like at any time during these talks that we were trying to get to a spot where the bridge is just going to be way too long [for us to meet]," Nathan said. "It's not like they were coming to us and insulting us by any means. It was definitely them showing interest that they want me around. And I think both sides feel we can continue to talk to possibly get something done." The market value for closers has significantly changed over the past year. That was clear by the contracts given to both Mariano Rivera (three years, $45 million from the Yankees) and Francisco Cordero (four years, $46 million plus a fifth option year from the Reds) this offseason. Seeing those types of deals likely means that Nathan, 33, will be looking for at least a four-year deal with the possibility of a fifth year. Unlike Santana, who according to his agent felt an obligation to get a deal near the top of market value, Nathan has expressed that he won't necessarily push for the largest payday.
But it doesn't appear that Nathan would be willing to take a significant pay cut either, considering that he feels he left money on the table in his current three-year deal with the Twins, which he signed prior to the '05 season.
Talks could start picking up again now that Twins pitchers and catchers have officially reported. Nathan made it clear Sunday that he doesn't feel a rush to get a deal done right away. But with only six weeks remaining until the start of the season, Nathan hinted that a sort of "deadline" might be in place."We see it being a lot more difficult to get something done if the start of the season comes about," Nathan said. "If something is going to get done, we'd like to see that happen in spring." Back on track: Hugs and handshakes abounded all morning inside the Hammond Stadium clubhouse as players checked in for reporting day. But there was one person who received a warmer welcome than most. Bullpen coach Rick Stelmaszek walked into the clubhouse, and almost immediately a line of people formed waiting to greet him. The longest-tenured coach in Twins franchise history, having spent 27 years in the organization, "Stelly" suffered two strokes last month at his home in Chicago, and his status for the spring was very much in question. Stelmaszek, 59, said he lost two full days following the episodes as he woke up in the hospital with no idea that so much time had passed. Following a tumultuous month of trying to get his health back on track, Stelmaszek was finally cleared by doctors on Thursday to travel to Florida for Spring Training. Before he was able to travel, Stelmaszek said he had to undergo a series of lifestyle changes to get his health back in order. That was largely due to the fact that the strokes were attributed to a mix of stress, diet, medication and blood pressure. It was a mix of problems that had been building up over time and finally caused his body to go what Stelmaszek said was "flooey." "But everything appears to be under control right now," Stelmaszek said. As part of the changes, Stelmaszek adopted a low-sodium diet and said that he's going to watch himself more closely this season so that he doesn't have any sort of recurrence of the problems. Liriano update: There was still no word Sunday on exactly when left-hander Francisco Liriano might be arriving at camp. Twins general manager Bill Smith said that he had not spoken with Liriano's agent, Greg Genske, in the past two days, but that he wasn't overly concerned with the process. "We know he's healthy and we've seen him throwing," Smith said. "So we know he'll be ready to go once he gets here. Of course we'd like him to be here as soon as possible, but we're going to make sure that he follows all the correct procedures first." Smith expected to have more of an update on Liriano's status Monday. He said there have been people trying to help Liriano expedite the process of obtaining his visa. So the hope is still that Liriano will arrive in the early part of the week.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.