Tigers make it official, sign free agent reliever Joe Nathan

DETROIT — If you can’t beat him, make him join you.

That’s what the Detroit Tigers did with closer Joe Nathan Wednesday, signing him to a two-year deal with a club option.

According to Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski, this is likely to be the end of the big-name players landing in Detroit.

“I don’t anticipate any of the major names that are being thrown out there that our name’s attached to that, I don’t anticipate those being our signings,” Dombrowski said.  

As for Nathan, Tigers fans remember all too well his days as the Minnesota Twins closer.

When Nathan came into the game to close it out, it was over. Nathan was a perfect 36-for-36 in save opportunities against the Tigers.

“Until somebody made me aware of that, I had no clue,” Nathan said at his introductory press conference at Comerica Park. “Honestly, I didn’t even realize the streak that I had going because there were so many games I got my brains beat in by Detroit as well. It just happened to be non-save situations.”

Ironically, Nathan will wear No. 36 with the Tigers. Luke Putkonen wore that number last season.

To create a spot on the 40-man roster, the Tigers designated infielder Dixon Machado for assignment.

Like another former Twin before him, Torii Hunter, Nathan said he knew where he wanted to play as soon as he became a free agent.

“This was the No. 1 club we set our eyes on and were hoping this day would happen,” Nathan said. “For us to be sitting here, getting it done, signing the papers today and getting a chance to talk to you all, it’s a dream come true.”

Nathan said he spoke to Hunter, who immediately got in touch with Dombrowski.

“We also want to thank your assistant agent Torii Hunter for texting us in the very beginning, ‘Why don’t you make this happen, Dave.,'” Dombrowski said.

Nathan was asked why Detroit was his choice when he had other teams interested in him.

“Why would I come here? Shoot, I think the question is why wouldn’t I?” Nathan said. “This team is ready to win, they’re ready to win now. Not just win, it’s not just about getting to the postseason, but for me, it’s about getting to the big one, getting to the World Series.

“That’s something that has not been a part of my career and has eluded me and that’s what it’s all about now for me.”

Dombrowski had said Monday after trading Doug Fister to the Washington Nationals for Ian Krol, Robbie Ray and Steve Lombardozzi Jr. that his next priority was getting a closer.

With Nathan in the fold, check that off the list.

“We’re thrilled to have him on board,” Dombrowski said. “We think we’ve come up with one of the best in the game. It really sets our bullpen situation up very well.”

Nathan, 39, was 6-2 with a 1.39 ERA and 43 saves in 67 appearances for the Texas Rangers last season. Opponents batted just .162 against him.

Nathan has converted 90 percent of his save opportunities in his 13-year career, the highest conversion rate of any active major league pitcher with at least 200 saves.

Dombrowski said that with the addition of Nathan, the Tigers were not likely to bring back Joaquin Benoit.

“I don’t see Joaquin coming back as a setup guy,” Dombrowski said. “I think that somebody will probably sign him as a possible closer somewhere so I don’t see that being a fit for us.”

Dombrowski said he’s happy with the bullpen as it stands.

“The person that we’re really looking to step up for us once again and really think he’s capable of doing it is Bruce Rondon,” Dombrowski said. “He’s healthy, he’s feeling good. We look at him as being a potential eighth-inning guy and the rest of the bullpen fall into place after that.”

Krol, Phil Coke, Al Alburquerque would take up some of the middle relief spots.