Friday, July 30, 2010

Capps and Trade

On Thursday night, the Twins traded AAA C Wilson Ramos and A+ LHP Joe Testa to the Washington Nationals for CL Matt Capps and $500,000. First, the bad news:
  • This isn't much of an upgrade at the Closer position. As Geek and Gleeman pointed out, Jon Rauch and Capps have performed pretty similarly over the last few seasons. Each has blown 4 saves this season, though Capps has had 5 more opportunities. We'll never know how Rauch would have done as the closer for the remainder of 2010, but I doubt it would have been particularly worse than what Capps will do.
  • The Twins bought high on Capps. He's got an ERA about 3/4 of a run below his career average, and was named to the All Star team for the first time. His ERA, BB/9 and HR/9 all spiked in 2009, after which he was eventually non-tendered by the Pirates. Had the Twins been interested in him over the winter, they probably could have traded him straight up for Testa. Now, his stock may never be higher.
  • The Twins sold low on Ramos. There was a ton of buzz around Ramos thanks to his strong performances in the Venezuelan Winter League, Spring Training, and his first couple of games with the Twins. However, his first half in Rochester was pretty dismal: he hit just .210/.252/.310 with 4 HR and about a 4/1 K/BB ratio before the break. But he's been hot since, hitting .388/.412/.510 in about 50 PA. Certainly not sustainable over the long run, but maybe an indication that he was finally getting comfortable at AAA and on his way to posting overall numbers that might approach league average for the season. That, from a 22-year-old with limited experience above A+ ball, might have been enough for the scouts to dream on. Waiting even just another month might have brought the Twins a significantly better return for Ramos.
Now, the good news:
  • Adding Capps makes the 2010 Twins better. Putting him in the closer role creates a trickle-down effect throughout the rest of the bullpen. Rauch threw at least 70 innings in each season from 2006-2009, but this year is on pace for about 60 IP. He's appeared in just 9 games in July, totaling 8.1 IP. Moving him from the closer role will probably lead to longer and more frequent appearances for Rauch, which will be a good thing. Nick Blackburn was optioned to Rochester to make room for Capps, meaning that mop-up innings he might have been getting will probably go to Anthony Slama, and the middle innings of close games (like last Friday in Baltimore) will go to one of the more accomplished members of the 'pen, like Matt Guerrier or Jesse Crain. This move should also mean less strain on Guerrier, making him likely to maintain his performance deeper into the season. The Twins are likely to get a couple of short starts a week from here on out, and adding a good reliever like Capps means that the bullpen is comprised of 7 pretty solid guys - there are no glaring weak spots anymore. Furthermore, Blackburn will get an opportunity to work through his troubles as a starter, and will remain stretched out in the event that the Twins need an emergency start somewhere down the road.
  • This gives the Twins some depth for 2011. Capps will be under team control next year. He will get a raise in arbitration, but will still be making less than market value for a closer. Rauch, Guerrier and Crain are all eligible for free agency next year, and I would be surprised if the Twins were able to retain more than one of them. We hope that Joe Nathan will be recovered from Tommy John surgery and ready to resume the closer role at the beginning of next season. If he's not, the Twins can turn to Capps, filling the other bullpen slots with serfs like Slama, Alex Burnett, Kyle Waldrop and Rob Delaney, all of whom are proving themselves to varying degrees at the upper levels. Pat Neshek will be available as well. Should Nathan bounce back like Billy Wagner, the Twins might be able to trade Capps in the spring for a return similar to what they've given up here. Speaking of which,
  • The Twins didn't give up anything they were going to need in the future. If the plan is to have Joe Mauer catching more than 75% of the Twins' games for the foreseeable future, Ramos is just a backup. Should the Twins be dissatisfied with Jose Morales and/or Drew Butera, they can find a veteran to fill that role easily enough. Right-handed hitting catchers aren't that difficult to come by during the offseason. The Rockies and Blue Jays each picked up productive players for a bargain, just as the Twins did when they signed Mike Redmond years ago. Testa struggled at AA and was rather old for A+. He was projecting as a LOOGY at best, another commodity that is readily available in the free agent market. There's nothing wrong with turning something you can't use into something you can.
I don't love this deal. Selling low and buying high is a bad way to invest in the stock market, and those principles generally apply to baseball as well. I wish the Twins had gotten more for Ramos; I wish they'd paid less for Capps. However, adding Capps makes the Twins more likely to win, not because he's an awesome closer, but because he compliments the other pieces of the bullpen. It means Gardy can have a quicker hook if Scott Baker or Kevin Slowey are struggling. It makes it more likely that the 'pen will be able to keep the score close until the offense can do some damage. So, ultimately, I'm OK with it.

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