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San Francisco Giants Bring Back Joe Nathan—13 Years Later

Sep 16, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan (36) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Twins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Joe Nathan (36) delivers a pitch in the ninth inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. The Twins won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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Do you remember when the San Francisco Giants played their home games in Candlestick Park, way back in 1999? Except for some of you younglings, of course you do. In regular human years, it hasn’t been all that long since then.

Those 17 years, however, are a lot longer in pro-athlete years. Still, the Giants’ most recent free-agent signee, relief pitcher Joe Nathan, can actually say he once played his home games in that windy ol’ football stadium (that no longer exists).

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The Giants signed Nathan to a minor league contract on Tuesday, days after the Chicago Cubs released him. Nathan blew out his elbow last year and has been working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

The Cubs signed him in May and brought him along through an 11-appearance rehab assignment. But using him for three scoreless appearances in the Big Leagues, the Cubs designated him for assignment on Aug. 5 and then released him three days later.

The Giants drafted Nathan in 1995, and he reached the Majors in 1999. He developed into a reliable relief pitcher by 2003, and following that season the Giants traded him to Minnesota. The Giants also sent prospects Francisco Liriano and Boof Bonser in the deal, and in return they received catcher A.J. Pierzynski.

Pierzynski didn’t really work out for the Giants. Meanwhile, Liriano has developed into an inconsistent yet sometimes dominant starting pitcher. Nathan immediately became the Twins’ closer and went on to average 37 saves over his next 10 seasons—which included stints with Texas and Detroit. If it’s any consolation to Giants fans, Bonser didn’t really pan out, logging a 5.18 ERA in four seasons.

Now Nathan is back in San Francisco, long past his prime but hoping to prove he has something left in that 41-year-old arm. While he is second in saves on the career active leaders list, he hasn’t been an effective closer since 2013. He saved a lot of games in 2014, but with a 4.81 ERA.

So, for any Giants fans who might be wondering if Nathan will replace the scuffling Santiago Casilla as the team’s closer, that’s not likely going to happen.

The hope would be that Nathan is fully recovered from the surgery he had 16 months ago and is capable of providing the Giants some quality middle-relief innings. It doesn’t appear to be terribly encouraging that the Giants are looking for help from a player discarded by a team they’re chasing in the National League. But if Nathan can prove the Cubs made a mistake, it will end up being a worthwhile gamble for the Giants.

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For now, Nathan is assigned to Double-A Richmond, where he will log some innings before the Giants decide whether to promote him.

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