Joe Nathan Could Potentially be Returning to the Detroit Tigers

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There are no typos in that sentence.

According to CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, former Detroit closer Joe Nathan could return to the Tigers’ organization next season.

In his column, Heyman writes that “Joe Nathan is expected back a month or two into the season, and the Tigers would be happy to take him back on a minor-league deal.”

“Much-maligned” is probably the best way to describe Nathan’s tenure in Motown.

After posting an absurdly-low 1.39 ERA in a launch-pad of a stadium in Texas, Nathan’s earned run average climbed to an unsightly 4.81 with the Tigers in 2014. That’s not even mentioning the fact that he allowed nearly a run per save (35 saves converted, 32 runs allowed) in his only full season with Detroit.

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Nathan also saw his walk rate increase and his strikeout rate decrease when he joined the Tigers. With Texas in 2013, the closer struck out 10.2 batters per nine innings while only walking 3.1 per nine. In the Motor City, his strikeout rate took a nose dive, dropping to 8.4 per nine innings. His walk rate rose to 4.5 free passer per nine innings.

The six-time All Star made one appearance for Detroit in 2015. He struck out former teammate Torii Hunter to close out the first game of the season. Nathan would go on to miss the rest of the season due to an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery.

Apr 6, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan (36) point to home during the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Detroit won 4-0. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

After Nathan’s injury, the team was forced to promote Joakim Soria to the closer’s role. This worked out brilliantly as Soria converted 23 saves and posted a 2.85 ERA in 43 appearances. However, considering how well Soria, Alex Wilson and Blaine Hardy pitched, it makes you wonder how differently the Tigers’ season would have ended if Nathan was healthy and effective.

In total, the longtime Minnesota closer converted 36 saves as a member of the Tigers’ bullpen.

Should he return, Nathan presents an interesting addition to Detroit’s relief corps. He provides considerable experience thanks to 377 career saves. He won’t be available to start the season due to the injury, but he could provide value.

The Tigers’ bullpen will undergo significant change in the offseason, with a number of free agents providing potential fits. If Detroit signs multiple quality relievers, Nathan could return as a depth piece. In other words, he would be a great addition if he can pitch effectively while entering games in the sixth or seventh inning.

In the same way that another top hitter lengthens a lineup, Nathan would add considerable depth to a bullpen that has been missing it.

Obviously this is all dependent if the team signs him and if he can pitch effectively, but there’s certainly potential.

Joe Nathan returning to the Detroit Tigers in 2016. It could happen.