Tigers officially end Joe Nathan tenure, add Luis Cessa to roster
The Joe Nathan era with the Tigers officially ended Tuesday, when the team declined the injured closer’s $10 million option for next season and added pitching prospect Luis Cessa to the 40-man roster in his place.
Under terms of Nathan’s contract, the Tigers will pay him $1 million to buy out the option. He immediately becomes a free agent.
The decision was pretty much a formality once Nathan underwent Tommy John surgery in April, ending his 2015 season after one outing, one batter, one strikeout and one save — all on Opening Day against the Twins. Nathan, who turns 41 later this month, spent the rest of the season rehabbing and has said he hopes to pitch again at some point next season, though being ready for Spring Training might be difficult.
The Tigers signed Nathan to a two-year, $20 million as a free agent in December 2013, hoping to lock down ninth-inning save opportunities after watching bullpen struggles help doom them in the 2013 ALCS against Boston. Nathan was coming off a dominant 2013 season in Texas, but never found that form in Detroit, instead encountered some of his toughest times since undergoing his previous Tommy John surgery in 2010.
Nathan saved 35 games in 2014, but suffered seven blown saves and posted a 4.81 ERA along the way. He gave up 60 hits over 58 innings, walked 29 batters nad struck out 54. His 8.4 strikeouts per nine innings marked his lowest rate since he was a starter with the Giants in 2000.
Nathan changed his offseason workouts designed to strengthen his arm and feel younger overall. He felt better, but he still dealt with his share of offensive damage during Grapefruit League. He went into the season as the closer before his elbow betrayed him.
Cessa was part of the return package the Tigers received from the Mets in the Yoenis Cespedes trade July 31. The 23-year-old right-hander was a standout in the Mets system at Double-A Binghamton, going 7-4 with a 2.91 ERA in 13 starts. He struggled at Triple-A, both at Las Vegas before the trade and Toledo afterwards, but still racked up 58 strikeouts over 62 innings between the two stops. He ranks sixth on MLB.com’s Tigers prospect list.
Detroit needed to add Cessa to the 40-man roster at some point this
month to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft in December week, or he would’ve become a minor-league free agent. He began his pro career as an infielder in the Mets system in 2009 before becoming a pitcher two years later.