Should Matt Capps Be Brought Back?


The Twins are strongly considering bringing Matt Capps back.

Capps went 4-7 with a 4.25 ERA and 15 saves for the Twins last year. With the departure of Joe Nathan, there is no other experienced closer in the organization. In recent years, the Twins have (wrongly) put an emphasis on bringing in players with closing experience rather than simply installing talented pitchers in the role. Thus, Capps is a logical target, despite the well-documented struggles he had in 2010. The Twins are not the only team for whom that experience is a selling point. The Angels and Red Sox have recently expressed some interest in signing Capps as well.

Capps had an up and down season in 2011, but it seems to be the “down” portion that sticks in our minds the most. He did record 15 saves, but he blew nine other chances, for a save success rate of just 62.5%. His ERA jumped from 2.47 in 2010 to 4.25 in 2011, and his K/9 rate took a nose dive from 7.27 to 4.66. The 4.66 rate, by the way, was the second lowest in the Major Leagues among relief pitchers with 50 or more innings pitched. Only Toronto’s Shawn Camp had a lower K rate (4.34/9).

The weak numbers only tell part of the story. There were some epic collapses for Capps in 2011. On May 11th, Capps came in with two out in the 8th inning, a runner on, and the Twins clinging to a 6-5 lead over Detroit. He promptly surrendered a homer to Brandon Inge, and then allowed two more runs in the 9th after the Twins had tied the score. Ten days later, Capps entered in the 8th inning again, this time with a 6-3 lead at Arizona. By the time the inning ended, six runs had scored, the coup de grace coming when Kelly Johnson smashed a grand slam off Capps. And on July 2nd against the Brewers, Capps blew a three run lead by allowing five hits and four runs to Milwaukee in an 8-7 loss. Soon afterward, Capps lost the closer job to Joe Nathan.

So yeah, there were some ugly moments for Capps in 2011. And it doesn’t help that Joe Mauer‘s injury forced the Twins to turn to Drew Butera at catcher on a regular basis, while the man the Twins traded for Capps, Wilson Ramos, had a very productive year in Washington. Oh, and the Twins also shelled out more than $7 million to Capps in the process.

But there are extenuating circumstances. Apparently, many of Capps’ struggles were the result of an injury. We may look back now and get upset that Capps waited until afterward to reveal that he was hurt. But do you remember how many players on the 2011 Twins went on the Disabled List with minor injuries? If anything, we should be glad that Capps was willing to tough it out.

If you eliminate the month of July from Capps’ record, he has a 3.83 ERA and a sparkling 1.09 WHIP. The strikeout rate also improves a bit, to 5.33 per nine innings. At his best, Capps is capable of striking out seven or more batters per nine innings and keeping his ERA at or below 3.00. Those still aren’t quite closer numbers, but it’s at least close to acceptable setup man territory.

How much money would Capps want? That’s hard to say. I’ll go out on a limb and say that no GM in his right mind will offer him anything close to his 2011 salary, or even the 20% reduction the Twins could’ve offered him in arbitration (by my math, that’s $5.72 million). The MLB free agent market surprises me pretty frequently, so it’s possible that there’s a team out there willing to offer $3 or $4 million per year, but that’s too high in my opinion. If I ran a baseball team, I would consider offering Capps $2 to $2.5 million. He would be a nice bullpen presence for that amount.

So I’m almost ready to conclude that the Twins should try to bring back Capps…

But there’s a twist. Thanks to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Twins will get a supplemental round pick if Capps signs with another team. Before the deal was done, Capps was considered a Type A free agent, which meant the Twins would have to offer him arbitration if they wanted any compensation for him leaving. Since they could not offer more than a 20% salary reduction (as mentioned above), that meant they would have risked paying way too much money to Capps, and arbitration was out of the question. But now they do not have to do that.

The draft pick tips the scales away from Capps. The free agent market is filled with veteran relievers who will be available for a similar price (maybe even cheaper if Capps’ saves total drives up his price), and if the Twins sign them they do not lose any draft picks. Thus, re-signing Capps would be a slightly bad move. It would not be the end of the world, but the team would be slightly better off without him.