FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Twins have thus far been unable to lock up closer Joe Nathan with a contract extension, but they may have locked up their closer of the future on Tuesday.

The Twins agreed to terms with right-handed reliever Jesse Crain on a three-year, $3.25 million contract that will keep him signed through the 2009 season.

Crain, 25, was 4-5 with a 3.52 ERA and one save in 68 appearances last season. In his final 22 appearances in '06, Crain was 2-0 with a 0.38 ERA and allowed just 14 hits.

Since being called up during the 2004 season, Crain has emerged as one of the team's primary setup men along with Juan Rincon.

Crain has an overall record of 19-10 and a 2.95 ERA in two-plus years with the team. The Twins believe Crain has the stuff to be a closer eventually, which could happen sooner than later if the club is unable to extend Nathan's contract.

"When he came up the system, we looked at him as a potential closer," said Rob Antony, director of baseball operations and contracts, who negotiated the deal. "He's been successful in the role as a setup guy, but we think he could also be a ninth-inning guy."

Crain would have been eligible for arbitration after this season so the contract buys out the first two years of arbitration.

"It's definitely something that I'm excited about," Crain said. "My family and I are both super excited. It's something that the Twins worked with us real good to get."

The contract is the first move by the Twins to lock up their bullpen, which ranked first in the American League last season. But Crain admitted that he was a bit surprised when the Twins approached him about the deal.

"I was hoping for it, but they had so many arbitration guys they had to sign, so I knew I was kind of on the back burner," Crain said. "About a week ago we started talking about it and it worked out good, so I'm excited."

General manager Terry Ryan said that the club approaches at least one to two guys every year for similar deals and this year, Antony felt that Crain was a perfect fit for such a contract.

"He's been healthy, durable, he's young enough so he gets some security and we're able to buy out two years of arbitration," Antony said. "You don't know where that goes. It might be the same or it might go up some. I think it's a win-win situation for both sides."

If Crain does indeed become the closer, the deal also has incentives in place based on the number of games finished to help ensure that he wouldn't be paid the same as a middle reliever. But Crain right now seems content in the role he's been given.

"Right now we still have Nathan and if things change, things change and you can't do anything about it," Crain said. "This is just exciting because now I can focus on just getting better playing and doing my job. I don't have to worry about anything else for the next few years, which is always a relief."