When the Texas Rangers decided to pick up their option on Joe Nathan for the 2014 season, they did so with the expectation the aging veteran would decline it and seek free agency.
Of course, they were right.
Nathan is looking for a multi-year deal on the market, something the Rangers aren't in a position to offer with plenty of bullpen arms and other needs to address with limited payroll flexibility, so it looks like Nathan's Rangers career is over after two stellar seasons.
Tenth all-time on the MLB saves list, Nathan turned in to All-Star seasons for the Rangers and had one of the best seasons of his lengthy career in 2013, but he'll be pitching elsewhere in 2014 barring some unforeseen development. He saved 80 games in his two seasons in Texas.
So where could Nathan be headed? Let's take a look at a few options, in order of probability.
1. Detroit Tigers — Nathan isn't getting any younger, and he is still searching for his first World Series championship, something he wasn't able to accomplish in Texas despite two good seasons. The Tigers have now been to the ALCS in three straight seasons and seem poised to be right back in contention for the AL pennant again in 2014. Their biggest weakness is glaring. It's in the bullpen, particularly the back part of it. Nathan would shore that up in a hurry.
2. New York Yankees — Hmm, which teams are looking for a closer? Well, the Yankees are right at the top of the list after the retirement of Nathan's good friend Mariano Rivera. The thought was that David Robinson would step into that role, but now the Yankees aren't so sure about that. The Yankees are far from a lock to contend for a title, but they're always in the picture.
3. Los Angeles Angels — This is a distant third, but talk about teams looking to shore up their bullpen. Ernesto Frieri is erratic, especially against their biggest rival, the Rangers. The Angels have made a habit of scooping up former Rangers, most notably Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson. Could they go after another one? It's possible.
Whatever happens, Rangers fans can look back fondly on what Nathan gave them over his two years in Arlington.