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Matt Capps’ saves becoming increasingly expensive for Twins

May 12, 2011, 12:48 PM EDT

Matt Capps, Joe Mauer

When the Twins traded Wilson Ramos to the Nationals for Matt Capps last July 30 they touted Capps’ status as a closer. And not just any closer, they repeatedly said. Capps was a “proven closer” and an “experienced closer” and an “All-Star closer.”

Regardless of their wording, the message was clear: They felt that Capps’ track record as a closer for the Pirates and Nationals made him a major upgrade over Jon Rauch, who’d been filling in for the injured Joe Nathan.

I hated the move at the time, writing that a prospect as good as Ramos was far too big a price to pay for Capps, whose save totals masked the fact that his actual performance was merely setup-man caliber and not significantly better than Rauch. That stance was viewed as heresy by many Twins fans. After all, they said, the Twins had acquired a proven, experienced, All-Star closer and that would allow them to remove Rauch from a role he was ill-suited to fill.

However, once you strip away the labels and perceptions there simply wasn’t much difference between the two pitchers. And certainly not enough difference to warrant giving up a prospect like Ramos for the right to pay Capps three times as much money as Rauch. At the time of the trade Rauch had a 3.05 ERA and was 21-for-25 converting saves. Since the trade Capps–who blew a save yesterday and then took the loss an inning later–has a 2.86 ERA and is 21-for-25 converting saves. And the similarities go even further:

                  IP      ERA     SV     BS     SO/9     BB/9     HR
Rauch then        38     3.05     21      4      6.3      2.1      3
Capps since       44     2.86     21      4      6.1      1.6      4

One pitcher was a career-long setup man whose stint as a fill-in closer was largely treated as a failure. One pitcher was touted as an experienced, proven, All-Star closer whose presence in the ninth inning was apparently worth giving up one of baseball’s top catching prospects. And just as their respective numbers beyond save totals suggested at the time of the deal, there’s been almost no difference between the two pitchers since the deal.

Well, except that Capps is now being paid $7.15 million by the Twins in his final season before free agency and Ramos is hitting .295/.356/.462 as the Nationals’ starting catcher at age 23. Closing is a role, not a skill, and the success rate is 75-80 percent for mediocre relievers, 80-85 percent for good relievers, and 85-90 percent for elite relievers. Paying a premium for an 80-85 percent guy just because he’d done it before was an increasingly costly error in logic for the Twins.

  1. clydeserra - May 12, 2011 at 1:09 PM

    Great points. Fuentes in Oakland will soon cost the A’s more money. He has performance incentives for finishing games. $100,000 per, if he reaches 30. He has got to be about 12 bynow.

    http://mlbcontracts.blogspot.com/2004/12/oakland-athletics.html

  2. chuckfu - May 12, 2011 at 2:11 PM

    I spent last summer in Minnesota so I got to watch and go to a lot of Twins games & couldn’t figure out the justification for hanging onto this guy. It seems to be the Twins m.o. to hang on to bad or mediocre players and justify it by …? I really don’t know. It seems like the Twins could be a much better ball club if they’d get rid of some of the baggage they have. But winning the ALDS and nothing more seems to be all they care about. I feel that Gardy is overrated as well & can’t figure his moves (or lack of them) for the life of me.

  3. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 12, 2011 at 2:15 PM

    How much worse will this move look if Mauer can’t be a full-time catcher anymore. I bet it will cost them a lot more than Matt Capps to trade for an elite catching prospect. Oops.

    • Ace - May 12, 2011 at 3:28 PM

      For real. If Ramos really is as good as he appears to be, that $7 million blown on Capps is the least of the Twins’ woes. How many truly good-hitting catchers are there in baseball right now? Maybe 5 or 6? Even if Mauer can still catch for a few more years, an elite catching prospect is just way too valuable a trading chip to cough up for a slightly above average reliever. What a steal for the Nats.

  4. visnovsky - May 12, 2011 at 3:34 PM

    I hate Bill Smith with a passion

    • Jeremiah Graves - May 12, 2011 at 7:09 PM

      hallelujah!

  5. minnesconsin - May 12, 2011 at 5:42 PM

    not to mention they got ride of jose morales for a minor league pitching prospect who i believe they recently learned has brain cancer, correct? salt in the wounds, i can’t take it!

  6. philosofly - May 13, 2011 at 1:25 AM

    The Ramos for Capps trade alone should have Twins fans calling for Billy fatass Smith’s head! He is, by far, the dumbest G.M. in all of professional sports (Isiah Thomas and Matt Millen included). Do I need to compare J.J. Hardy for Jim “oops another dinger” Hoey too?

  7. philosofly - May 14, 2011 at 2:11 AM

    So, how do the Twins go about acquiring Brian Wilson? The Giants can have Capps, Casilla, Billy Smith and Target Field!

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