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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Matt Capps Signing: It's Not Really All That Bad

Let me preface this post by stating that I'm not a Matt Capps fan. I didn't like the deal that sent him here in exchange for Wilson Ramos, I don't like the fact that he is a closer who doesn't strike out batters, and, like the rest of you, I watched him implode this summer, throwing belt-high fastballs and sliders down the middle of the plate, while experienced major league hitters teed off. It was interesting to find out, well after the fact, that Capps was playing with an injured arm during this period of awfulness, but let's face it, he wasn't "lights out" in 2011 even when healthy, and he certainly didn't earn the $7.15 million that the Twins paid last year.

So, it wasn't great news to read last night that the Twins signed Capps to close in 2012. Thus far this offseason, I have thought that spending high dollars on an "established closer" is a waste of money for the 2012 Twins. I doubt that they will have the health and talent to win the AL Central and, accordingly, to spend upwards of $8-10 million on a veteran closer is a real waste of money. Viewed in this light, the Capps signing, at $4.75 million with a $6 million option (I have to imagine a team or mutual option) for 2013, isn't awful.

By comparison, Jesse Crain got paid $4 million last year by the White Sox, and will earn $4.5 million 2012 and 2013; Matt Guerrier left Minnesota and got $12 million over 3 years. Yes, both of those players did very good things in Minnesota, and yes, they also were both tough to watch during long stretches. I still wish we had kept at least one of them. I guess my point is that everyone seems to pay, or overpay, for established, late-inning relievers. Is Matt Capps at $4.75 million to close worse than Jesse Crain at $4.5 million, or Guerrier at $4 million. Maybe? Is he really that much worse? Probably not. And, in 2012, will it really make that much difference? Probably not.

I'm glad the Twins balked at Joe Nathan and his $7 million each of 2012 and 2013. This club didn't need to invest $14 million in a closer when they may be lucky to play .500 baseball. Similarly, I'm glad the Twins weren't foolish enough to spend $9 million on Heath Bell each of 2012, 2013 and 2014. Clearly, the Miami Marlins expect to compete, and they think that guaranteeing $27 million to an aging closer is the way to go.

The Twins still need another couple good, established bullpen arms. They still need to shore up the outfield, and they still need to figure out the rotation. Kevin Slowey's probably out, but what about Carl Pavano? Could they get something good in return for him? If so, who replaces him in the rotation? The point of this post isn't to discuss the Twins' remaining holes going into 2012; I'm simply stating that, in and of itself, this Capps signing doesn't really handicapp (see what I did there?) the front office all that much for 2012, as it would have if the Twins spent nearly twice the value of the Capps contract on a different, better, free agent closer.

Matt Capps, if healthy, will probably be better than he was in 2011. If the Twins don't compete next year, other clubs will be willing to take the rest of his relatively modest contract at the July trade deadline (either to close or to set up), just like the Twins did with Brian Fuentes in 2010. And if Capps somehow outperforms all expectations, increases his disappointing strikeout ratio (4.66/9 innings last year), and becomes an "All-Star closer" again, well, the Twins got a pretty good deal, and they have an affordable option for 2013 if Capps really can figure it out. Again, I doubt that will be the case, but the front office has not "ruined" the Twins now or in the future, by any stretch, with this signing.

Finally, about the supplemental draft pick that the Twins gave up by signing Capps. Yes, this could have been an important pick in the Twins' effort to re-stock the farm system. Yes, the Twins' farm system is in need of high level talent. But who knows what the Twins would have gotten, especially considering that this upcoming draft class is supposedly the weakest in a few years? Sure, it could be the next Derek Jeter or something, but it could just as easily be the next David McCarty or Todd Walker. I'm just throwing out names here, but you get the point. The Twins draft second overall, and will get one sandwich pick if Michael Cuddyer or Jason Kubel depart, or, obviously, two if both depart. Coupled with the pick they would have had if Capps signed elsewhere, that's a lot of money to spend to sign prospects in one year. If I felt the Twins were in a position for a deep and extended retooling, I might have more of an issue with the Capps signing, but I believe that the Twins should be making moves to remain watchable in 2012, with an eye on competing in 2013 and 2014. Accordingly, the loss of 1 pick, in and of itself, is not going to make or break this organization's future. Rather, what the Twins do with the 2-3 early round picks is of much greater importance.

This is a great topic for debate. Just like others, I found Matt Capps tough to watch last year. But, perhaps this isn't an awful signing. I'm curious what others think. Let me know in the comments.


  1. The deal itself isn't so bad. It is what the deal -- and the Cuddyer rumors -- say about TR and this front office that makes me want to puke.

    It is becoming more and more clear that the termination of Bill Smith was merely a bone thrown out to satisfy the masses and propel season ticket sales. NOTHING is going to change under TR -- they will still be a very risk-averse organization whose main goal is to be competitive ENOUGH during the season to keep butts in the seats and keep people buying beer, jerseys and all their other profitable junk.

    Their goals have NOTHING to do with winning a World Series or even, in reality, with winning the division. They just want to be "good enough" over the course of the season with "nice guy" player images to keep those $$$ rolling in.

  2. JB, that's a fair criticism. If they end up with the same starting rotation, re-signing Cuddyer and Capps, and styling Carroll and Doumit as "big free agent acquisitions," then the Twins are in trouble for next year.

    I do think this team is in a lot of trouble, though. What if they did sign CJ Wilson (or some other "ace" starter if one was available) for 6 years? Next year, and probably even 2013, they would still be just a .500 team with 1 very good pitcher.

  3. I'm not looking for an immediate big ticket signing -- quite frankly, there are so many pieces missing from this club, it would seem like a waste to me.

    If part of Ryan's strategy here is to have pieces to trade to reload the system at the next trade deadline, I'm all for it. (I do not want to see a trade deadline fiasco like in 2011).

    I just keep waiting for a long-term strategy for "getting over the playoff hump" to reveal itself. I hope that maybe it becomes clearer next summer.