MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -The Twins have exercised their $6 million option on closer Joe Nathan, ensuring the two-time All-Star will be back for another season in Minnesota.
The Twins announced the move Monday, as expected. They could have bought Nathan out for $1 million, but the right-hander's 160 saves and a 1.94 ERA over the past four years make his salary a bargain by market value. He turns 33 next month.
Last year, Yankees closer Mariano Rivera and Mets closer Billy Wagner each made $10.5 million, and seven other closers made as much or more than Nathan will make next year.
Nathan's current contract was concocted during spring training in 2005, when his previous deal was extended to give him salaries of $3.75 million in 2006, $5.25 million in 2007 and now $6 million in 2008. He acknowledged earlier this season that he probably left some money on the table with those negotiations.
If the Twins want to keep him past next year, it's certainly going to cost them a lot more. Nathan and his agent, Dave Pepe, have said they're open to another extension. But the team has many pressing issues this winter.
Center fielder Torii Hunter will be a free agent next month, and fellow All-Star Johan Santana has only one more season left on his contract. Another starting pitcher, Carlos Silva, will be a free agent after the World Series as well, and first baseman Justin Morneau has a hefty raise coming through arbitration.
Acquired from the San Francisco Giants in that infamously lopsided trade that also brought pitchers Boof Bonser and Francisco Liriano to Minnesota for catcher A.J. Pierzynski after the 2003 season, Nathan has become one of baseball's premier ninth-inning pitchers.
Originally drafted as a shortstop, he struggled with shoulder problems during much of his time in San Francisco. His fastball was flat in his first spring with the Twins, who worried so much about his velocity that they wondered if it was a mistake to make him the closer - and considered trading for someone else.
But Nathan assured them this was a normal occurrence, and he quickly assuaged their concern. Over four seasons with Minnesota, Nathan is 19-8 with 160 saves in 174 chances (92 percent). Last season, he went 4-2 with a 1.88 ERA and 37 saves, his fourth straight season that he has saved at least 36 games.
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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski contributed to this report.

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