Joe Nathan, Tigers closing in on deal

Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

The Tigers are hoping to strengthen a relief corps that proved to be a weak link in 2013.

The Detroit Tigers are closing in on a contract with free agent closer Joe Nathan, reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. No details of a possible deal have been released.

The Tigers have shown a great deal of interest in Nathan since the offseason began. First there were reports that the two sides had a mutual interest in one another, then the right-hander said on MLB Network Radio three weeks ago that he "loved" the Tigers organization.

It's easy to see why the Tigers would find Nathan appealing. Joaquin Benoit, the team's closer in 2013, appears likely to leave in free agency and Drew Smyly is set to enter the starting rotation following the trade of Doug Fister to the Nationals. Those two had been far and away the best options in a weak relief corps. Luke Putkonen, Jose Veras and Bruce Rondon were the only other three relievers to make more than 15 appearances and post an ERA under 4.00 and only Rondon, a top prospect and rookie last year, is likely to continue that success.

The Tigers' bullpen ERA of 4.01 in 2013 was the seventh-worst mark in the MLB and worst among teams that qualified for the postseason.

Nathan, 39, has been as steady as any relief pitcher not named Mariano Rivera over the past decade. Since 2003, he has had an ERA over 3.00 just once and has collected 340 saves as closer for the Twins and Rangers. He has been a big time strikeout pitcher over his career, using a lethal combination of a fastball, slider and curve ball.

Though no contract details have leaked out, Nathan said at the outset of free agency that he was seeking a two-year deal. He signed a two-year, $14 million contract with the Rangers prior to the 2011 season.

The Tigers have also shown an interest in Brian Wilson in what has thus far been a busy offseason for the team. The team has already traded away Prince Fielder and Fister and have also been rumored to be eyeing Jacoby Ellsbury in free agency as well.

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