When it was announced yesterday that the Twins had avoided arbitration with Matt Capps by tendering him a contract for $7.15 million for 2011, it came as a mild surprise. Not so much that the Twins avoided arbitration, or that the Twins worked out a deal with Capps, but that the deal came in so high. Even the higher estimates had him coming in between $6.5 and, at the most, $7 million. The $150,000 difference between the highest estimate and the actual total isn't really the point. It's that, somehow, the Twins thought that $7.15 million was fair.
Some people have argued that the money spent on Capps could have been better spent on J.J. Hardy, and while money-for-value I certainly agree, I also know that decision wouldn't have helped the bullpen. Spending Capps' ching on Hardy wouldn't have necessarily precipitated keeping Jesse Crain around. Or Matt Guerrier or Brian Fuentes or Jon Rauch.
What seems to be lost in the conversation is that, while $7.15 million is a lot to pay for Capps (especially once you realize that the Twins are dedicating nearly $20 million to two relievers), the Twins are also on a one year committment. There's value in a one-year committment, particularly when you don't have to bid against anyone else.
The free agent market was flush with relief options this winter, and that's something that's been chronicled a number of times here. But anytime you dabble in free agency you're bidding against somebody, especially when you would have been looking to bring in a quality arm to replace not just Guerrier, Crain, Rauch and Fuentes but Capps as well. The four former pitchers are all signed through ages 31 to 36 (or even 37 depending on the option for Fuentes). Capps, on the other hand, will be just 27 this season.
So not only did the Twins retain the services of a good relief pitcher, but they didn't have to out-bid anyone else, they aren't required to pay him multi millions of dollars into his 30s, they didn't surrender a draft pick, and included in all of it is the mitigation of risk. There's more risk in multi-year contracts, and there's a risk that, when banking on the free agent market to fill holes, you don't always get what you want.
Considering the mess this bullpen was headed for this winter, the Minnesota front office elected to go the route of stability and certainty. Yes, $7.15 million is probably more than Capps is worth in one year. But in exchange, the Twins are completely off the hook in 2012. I'm okay with Capps for one year instead of Crain or Guerrier for three.