FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The countdown to the start of the 2008 season is nearing the two-week mark and that means that the clock is also ticking for the Twins to negotiate a contract extension with closer Joe Nathan.

But there are signs that the team could be taking steps to get something done.

The Twins reached out to Nathan's agent, Dave Pepe, in recent days, the first real communication between the two sides in over a month. And the closer said Pepe is planning to meet with the club's front office face-to-face when he makes a previously scheduled trip to Fort Myers on Tuesday.

"I think we'll know more -- one way or another -- when Dave's here next week," Nathan said of his contract situation. "And hopefully there is going to be a chance for me to stay around here for a couple more years."

The closer isn't the only one who feels that the next two weeks will be critical to whether an extension is reached. The Twins have recently expressed that they feel if something is going to get done with Nathan, it will happen before the start of the season.

Nathan, 33, is currently in the final year of his contract, which will pay him $6 million for the '08 season.

The two sides first began talks about a contract extension in late January in the days following the club's trade of ace Johan Santana. But after several conversations between the Twins and Pepe, the talks quickly stalled and there has been limited communication since that time.

While the closer did not rule out the notion of discussions taking place after Opening Day, he has made it clear that it will become much more difficult to negotiate a deal after that date has passed.

"Once Day 1 starts, everything we've done up to this point is kind of off the table," Nathan said. "We're talking about me basically getting rid of some days of risk. Going through the season there is risk and as the season goes on, there is less risk."

Nathan has repeatedly stated that he would like to stay in Minnesota, but that's only if he gets what he deems to be "market rate." That has raised considerably for elite closers this offseason, with the Yankees giving Mariano Rivera a three-year, $45 million deal and the Reds signing Francisco Cordero to a four-year, $46 million contract with an option for a fifth year.

While Santana's agent, Peter Greenberg, made a statement after the ace signed a $137.5 million contract with the Mets that the pitcher felt an "obligation to the market" with his deal, Nathan said again Friday that he doesn't feel under that same pressure.

"It's not like we're tying to go out and make a new level for guys to go at," Nathan said. "What those guys have done -- Mariano, [Billy] Wagner, Cordero -- these guys have already set a new bar. Their numbers are something that I'll be looking to, yes, but that's just for something that is around what I'm worth."

Even with the recent contact between the two sides, there has been no real progress made in specific discussions for a contract. A source close to the negotiations said that a significant gap still exists between the numbers the club has offered and what the closer is seeking.

But Nathan said Friday that the latest outreach by the Twins to his camp has him encouraged that something still might get done.

"For them to want to wait [for more discussions] until my agent gets here, I think that's a reason to be optimistic," Nathan said.