Matt Capps, Or His Mirror and a Draft Pick

Last night Phil Mackey posted some solid information on our Minnesota Twins who, apart from making a "mad effort" to sign Michael Cuddyer, are also fond of bringing back Matt Capps. To be fair to the Twins Capps isn't as bad as he often looked in 2011, and if brought back at a fraction of his salary would probably be an effective reliever.

But I feel like we should be injecting some perspective into this conversation.

Sidebar: In Mackey's article, Ron Gardenhire doesn't accept injuries as an excuse to lose 99 games. That's great. Of course he then goes on to use injuries as a crutch for Capps' performance, instead praising Capps for being a "class act" and giving the team what he could in spite of his health. This should have no bearing on whether or not we think the hefty right-hander should be back in 2012, but it's interesting to note.

Objectively, it's hard to look at Capps' rough 2011 as a benchmark for performance going forward. Injuries or not it was an off year. Still, it's worth comparing his numbers to league averages over the last few seasons. Take a look.

Split ERA BB/9 K/9 BAA WHIP
Capps ('09-'11) 4.01 2.2 6.5 .282 1.35
2011 3.69 3.6 7.9 .243 1.32
2010 3.94 3.7 7.9 .250 1.36
2009 4.08 4.0 7.6 .252 1.39

Taking Capps' three year composite against the averages for all MLB relief pitchers over the past three seasons, it doesn't take advanced metrics to tell what amounts to be a very average tale. There's value in an average reliever, certainly. Particularly when a quick glance through available arms for the '12 bullpen reveals a very short list of reliable, effective arms. It means that Matt wouldn't be a bad choice in terms of the MLB roster.

It also means that the production the Twins could expect from Capps is relatively easy to replicate. If Minnesota is willing to pay Capps (as an example) $2.5 to $3 million, they have the alternative of paying a similar relief pitcher that money while also collecting a draft pick.

While Capps is no longer a Type A free agent, the new CBA means that the Twins don't need to offer him arbitration in order to collect compensation when he'd inevitably sign elsewhere. That decision would net the organization a draft pick between the first and second rounds of the draft this June.

With this in mind, it's difficult to see the logic in trying to retain Capps. He's an average relief pitcher, which is fine, but without paying additional money the Twins could have the same production and a top 60 draft pick. So why keep the sometimes closer in the fold?

Speculating, we could hazard a guess that Minnesota has tried to speak to other free agent relief pitchers, and have found very little interest. Or perhaps I am drastically underestimating the market for non-closer bullpen free agents. More likely, I suspect the Twins are interested in keeping Capps around because they know they need a few arms, and he's one that's familiar.

And that would be beyond frustrating. Change is inevitable on a roster, and I can't repeat often enough that this front office has to make some very difficult decisions this winter for the good of the team's future. Some of those difficult decisions won't even be in terms of personnel, but rather philosophy. The philosophy of paying a free agent to return simply because he's familiar and is a model teammate isn't good enough. Those are luxuries. They're positives, certainly. But for a team like the Twins who are facing an uncertain future, moves need to be shrewd and they all need to be made with the understanding that the decisions made today can add or subtract to what happens five years down the line.

This is one of those times, one of those decisions. The reliever market has a number of bullpen arms who can be just as effective as Capps for similar money, and by letting Capps walk the Twins would garner a valuable draft pick in the process.

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