Spoke this morning to Joe Nelson, who said he remains hopeful he can return to the Marlins even after being non-tendered late last night. Nelson, 34, has bounced around the minors for so many years that nothing shocks him anymore, even the somewhat surprising move by the Marlins.
"I think that the door is still open," Nelson said of his relationship with the Marlins. "Part of me still wants to be a Marlin, and I believe that's still a possibility."
On the other hand, Nelson is now a free agent and said he would test the market. He would be foolish not to. Nelson is not oblivious to the money being thrown at relievers, and he is coming off his best season ever in the majors, one in which he emerged as one of the most consistently reliable members of the bullpen after being promoted from Triple A in late May. He made 59 appearances for the Marlins, averaged more than a strikeout per inning, and finished with a 2.00 ERA. Nelson knows he doesn't have many opportunities left to cash in.
"I’m in the best position of my career to test the market," he said.
Earlier this week, I spent the day with Nelson at the winter meetings in Las Vegas. Players don't tend to show up at baseball's big winter pow-wow, but Nelson is fascinated by the business side of the sport and made the trip to Nevada from his home in West Palm Beach to network and witness the event first-hand. He said he would like to work in the front office following his playing career.
"I'm one curveball away from being an assistant G.M.," he cracked.
Nelson walked the hallways at the Bellagio hotel and casino, shaking hands with executives that had given him opportunities in the past. Later, he and his agent, Doug Shaer, cabbed over to the industry's trade show, where the pitcher chatted with company representatives and salesmen.
"For the last 13 years, I've encouraged him to use his personality to build relationships," Shaer said of Nelson, who is friendly and engaging.
Nelson managed to talk one salesman into sending him free samples of a hand-held misting device that he promised every member of the Marlins bullpen would use on those hot summer nights in South Florida. And he wrangled another company to send him a set of black stirrups bearing the Marlins logo. He told the rep that he would wear the socks during spring training and that he hoped to have everyone on the team wearing them by the start of the season.
Now, after Friday's late-night news, Nelson could end up wearing another uniform in '09.
If Nelson doesn't return to the Marlins, which now looms as a strong possibility, "I will send a nice care package to J.J. (Josh Johson) and the guys," Nelson joked of the socks.
Nelson and the Marlins aren't that far apart on money. During the winter meetings, the Marlins presented his agent with an offer believed to be for slightly less than $700,000. Nelson probably wasn't going to ask for much more than $900,000 in salary arbitration. Now, in becoming a free agent, the landscape for Nelson are entirely different.