July 30, 2010

Twins get Matt Capps from Nationals for Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa

Matt Capps was available for nothing this offseason. Non-tendered by the Pirates in December following a career-worst campaign that saw him post a 5.80 ERA and .324 opponents' batting average while serving up 10 homers in 54.1 innings, Capps became a free agent and signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Nationals in large part because they were one of the only teams willing to promise him an opportunity to remain a closer.

And last night the Twins decided to overpay for that closing experience, acquiring Capps from the Nationals for Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa. To be clear, Capps is a good, solid late-inning reliever. He bounced back nicely in Washington with a 2.74 ERA and 38-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 46 innings and has a 3.50 ERA in 317 career innings. However, if not for his racking up 93 saves for bad teams I'm convinced the Twins never would have even considered this move.

Much like the Twins turning to Jon Rauch with Joe Nathan sidelined, Capps' reputation as an "experienced closer" comes largely from teams simply giving him a shot to accumulate saves. Rauch has done a perfectly fine job filling in for Nathan, converting 21-of-25 saves with a 3.05 ERA and 27-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38.1 innings, and if given a longer opportunity may have turned himself into an "established closer" just like Capps did. Seriously.

Take a look at their respective career numbers as relievers:

           IP     ERA     FIP    SO/9    BB/9     AVG     OBP     SLG     OPS
Capps     317    3.50    3.80     7.0     1.7    .263    .302    .415    .717
Rauch     402    3.54    3.90     7.5     2.7    .242    .297    .390    .687

Capps has had better control, Rauch has been tougher to hit, and their overall effectiveness is nearly identical across the board. If pressed I'd pick Capps over Rauch because he's younger and has fared better in Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP), but by far the biggest difference between them is that one has accumulated saves for four seasons while the other has accumulated saves for one season.

No one would ever suggest that trading Ramos for a reliever who's slightly better than Rauch is a sound idea, yet by focusing on the save statistic the Twins have done just that and many fans will instinctively be on board with the move for an "established closer." Now, don't get me wrong: Capps is a quality reliever and represents a clear upgrade to the Twins' bullpen. What he's not is an elite reliever or enough of an upgrade to part with Ramos.

Capps is under team control as an arbitration-eligible player next season as well, which means the Twins essentially traded Ramos and Testa for 1.5 seasons of him. Unfortunately part of his inflated perceived value includes his likely price-tag in arbitration, which is sure to rise from this year's $3.5 million salary to over $5 million (and perhaps well over $5 million) thanks to those same shiny-looking save totals.

Capps makes the Twins better for the final two months of this season and all of next year, but the improvement isn't nearly as large as the "All-Star closer" label would have you believe and the cost involved is significant in terms of both players and money. Next season the Twins will pay a premium for a quality setup man they perceive as something more because of a reliance on a flawed statistic and they gave up a good catching prospect for the right do that.

In fairness, Ramos' value is inflated as well. His historic debut caused the Twins fans who don't know any better to assume that he was destined for stardom and his subsequent struggles at Triple-A have exposed him as a good but not great prospect. However, he still projects as a good defender behind the plate and a 22-year-old being overmatched in his first experience at Triple-A is far from disastrous.

I'm not convinced that Ramos will become a star, but the possibility certainly exists and at the very least he looks capable of developing into a starting-caliber catcher for many years. Joe Mauer's presence meant Ramos had little shot to be that starting-caliber catcher in Minnesota, but that doesn't mean the Twins needed to deal him immediately or when his value was at an all-time low or for an underwhelming return like Capps.

I have no problem with trading Ramos or trading for bullpen help, and in the Twins' minds they just traded him for an "All-Star closer." In reality they traded Ramos for a setup-caliber reliever who accumulated saves on bad teams and is thus overrated and soon overpaid. Among the 93 pitchers who've logged 150-plus relief innings in the past three calendar years, Capps ranks 38th in xFIP, 49th in FIP, 50th in ERA, 61st in strikeout rate, and 85th in opponents' average.

You'd think the Twins would have learned something about the created-not-born nature of the closer role and often spurious value of saves from Rauch's relatively successful stint filling in for Nathan, but instead they just paid a premium for a guy whose perceived value and ability are much higher than his actual value and ability solely because of his role and save total. Capps is a good reliever, but the Twins paid for a great reliever and did so for all the wrong reasons.

  • Peter

    And it shows even more Twins don’t trust their own minor leaugue relievers. Neshek still that far away? Waldrop?

  • http://www.carlosrm.com Carlos

    Now the Toronto-Astros deal looks slightly better. The going rate for prospects is at an all time low, I guess.

  • chris

    maybe a prospect is just only a prospect…and lower then 50% of the great prospects ever play mlb for some years or more….
    i liked Rauch as closer, and Nathan can be back next year…so we really need Capps? But with Guerrier, Rauch, Nathan and Capps we have nearly the deepest/best relieving team in mlb. And Ramos…only would have been a 2nd choice catcher for years to come….

  • John

    Very interesting. If Capps closes NEXT year, and we let Rauch walk, will he be a Type A or B Free agent? If he is a Type A, we get a first rounder for him, Type B I believe is a sandwich pick.

    Then when Nathan comes back, during the season, he will be in his last year of making $10-$12 million, perhaps the thinking is trade Joe next July and if Capps is only making $5 million, perhaps we can sign him to an extension and there will be more money in the off-season.

    Next spring will be interesting, I would guess with Joe’s age (35) next spring, they aren’t sure spending $10-$12 million on him, to close makes sense?

  • derek

    Couldn’t be more disappointed with this trade. The Twins just sold low, a stupid strategy no matter what you’re discussing, on one of their best assets. I agree with the previous poster, couldn’t they just call up Waldrop if they really thought they needed another bullpen arm. Having Capps instead of someone like Mahay can’t be worth even half a win for the rest of the year. My biggest fear is that this is going to cost Slama his spot in the pen.

  • chris

    slama should stay or be replaced by waldrop..maybe neshek…blackburn should move to AAA.

    Rauch a Type A or B free agent??? I do not think so…that he is worth here anything………

  • chris

    maybe he will be a Type B free Agent…but not more…

  • ak103

    Most probable scenario (no injuries etc)
    Matt G – type A
    Jon Raunch – type B
    Jessie Crain – type B
    Nick Punto – Priceless…

  • wengler

    I wish Ramos would’ve been part of a package for an ace-quality starter. Oh well, this isn’t as bad as Matt Lawton for Rick Reed. Like most moves Billy Smith has made in his tenure as GM it is a small short-term improvement and a moderate long-term deficit.

    This team’s success in the last decade has been developing pitching within the minor league system. Overpaying for pitching from other teams is a very bad sign.

  • Clearly

    But the entire assumption here is that Capps will be as good as he has been in Washington, which is an overrated observation. How do we know that Capps, as a reliever, will not be better for a playoff contending team as he has been for non-contending team. I don’t mean to point out specious observations, but this sort of thing has happened in the past for the Twins. Just look at the acquisition of Rauch from last year. We didn’t give up a promising prospect for him, but honestly, we cannot judge this trade until we see how Capps performs in a Twins uniform.

  • http://www.refrigerators.net Sam

    Paying that high of a price reeks of desperation. A desperation I don’t share.

  • Gendo

    Clearly:

    Basically your best case scenario is dependent on statistical noise. The trade can be judged by the relative value of the pieces as they stand now.

    For this to pan out positively for the Twins Capps would have to vastly outperform his past numbers.

  • Large Canine

    Clearly: ? Really? Clearly, Ramos (other then his extremely short stint with the Twins this season) did not contibute to the Twins playoff hopes this season and most likely would not have contributed next year. The biggest upgrade here is that Rauch will now be able to eat more set up innings where his true value stands. The Twins have Butera and Morales who are servicable backups to Mauer for the next 4-5 years. Not a great deal but Rauch/Capps as setup/closer is better then what we had. This is a win now move. Yes, an ace starter would have been the best move. One thing people forget, despite the save being an overrated stat, having a reliable closer gives the manager and players a piece of mind which can’t be quantified.

  • Jeff H

    This is absolute garbage–so mad at this deal. Capps will strike out the side one game and fans will think he’s awesome–until he gets blown up one game and they realize they just flipped Ramos for another Nationals reliever who really isn’t any better at “defending 3 run leads” than Rauch was.

  • David

    Not wild about the trade, but generally supportive due to a few factors:

    1.) I would have to assume the Twins engaged in discussions for starting pitching with Arizona, Houston, Chicago Cubs, et.al., and that Ramos was offered as part of a deal. I would also have to assume that they were not overly impressed with him as a core prospect.
    2.) Conversely, Ramos seems drastically overvalued by Twins fans who’ve been reading what a can’t-miss prospect he is for the last 2-3 years.
    3.) I have a lot of faith in the Twins scouts. Do I trust them more than the evaluation of a sabermetrician? No comment.

  • Adam Platt

    The numbers speak for themselves, no matter who they come from. This is a disappointing deal from a team that has serious problems evaluating bullpen talent. Look at the state of ours and tell me you have a lot of faith in Twins scouts. Our bullpen has been third rate for years, now. It’s why we can’t win a playoff game. This guy can’t put up numbers against teams like the Rays and Yankees.

  • Cleat

    Gleeman said of Capps: “Next season the Twins will pay a premium for a quality setup man”. This assumes Nathan will be ready for Game #1. We’ve seen enough of these elbow surgery rehabs around here to know that ain’t gonna happen.

  • JB

    i went to bed thinking replacing wilson ramos with jose morales in my head. thinking, “i dont know why everyone thinks this is a bad deal.” oh no, terrible.

  • Neil

    If Ron Gardenhire is your manager, you need bullpen options. Lots of them. I recognize that the Twins could get seriously burned on this deal, but I’m not as down on the trade as most of the Gleemanites. Cliff Lee wasn’t coming here; Roy Oswalt wasn’t coming here. Not excited about any of the other available starters. And besides, the numbers suggest that the current Twins starters other than Pavano have been unlucky. So let’s bolster the ‘pen.

    Capps is still young. He’s about to turn 27, and let’s face it: odds are Nathan never closes again. Capps could be the closer here for several years. Or not.

    As big a question as Capps is how Rauch does returning to the setup role. His recent streak of wildness is pretty disconcerting.

    So, yes, it’s a risky deal. And trading for an “established” closer is contrary to the Twins Way. But don’t wet yourselves. If there’s anything that’s more overvalued than relievers in MLB trades, it’s catching prospects. This could work out OK…

  • JMP

    @Adam – Third rate? Really?

    We have no idea if Capps will put up great numbers against the Yankees and Rays. He’s put up good numbers on bad teams, I’m assuming those bad teams faced good teams every so often. I have confidence that the front office knows what they are doing and I don’t think that this is the only move they’ll make. Could they have gotten more for Ramos? It doesn’t look like it.

  • TR

    How many years have we begged the Twins to make a trade with “this year” in mind and stop worrying about the future 3 years down the road. The truth is that the Twins and their fans dramatically overestimate the value of their prospects. If this trade helps the bullpen and gets them into the playoffs, then it’s ok. Mauer and Morneau are not getting any younger…

  • yefrem

    from a financial standpoint, the closer by committee approach may be the way to go. twins simply can’t afford to be turning every fill-in into another joe nathan

  • pk

    Look at this way…
    1) No trade and two weeks down the road Rauch is still wild and has blown 1-3 more saves. Crain is a mess again and Gurrier is tired. Now what?

    2) Yankees get Capps instead of Twins.

    3) White Sox have Jenks, Thorton, and Putz out of the pen. With the exception of a couple Sundays ago they are solid and shorten the game to 6 innings. Same thing can’t be said for Twins.

    Good trade for a team with a need today and tomorrow. His modest salary and team control required a higher value prospect. I like this better than a 2 month 3/4th starter rental.

  • pk

    Yefrem is correct. Financially speaking the days of committing $11M to a closer are over for the Twins post Mauer contract.

  • mike wants wins

    I hate this trade even more than I did last night. It shows that the Twins’ front office over values certain stats, and under appreciates the predictive nature of more advanced stats. As for Capps, he’s just not that good. As for “trading for now”, most of us have argued for a legit hitter or starting pitcher. Few of us who have posted here or other places believe that trading legit prospects for a reliever makes sense.

  • pk

    The Twins had a good idea of how the rest of the league valued Ramos. He was thoroughly shopped. He’s only 22 but his value wasn’t going to increase playing in AAA for another season.
    Good Trade.

  • Large Canine

    Pen and closer: First of all Joe Nathan is arguably one of the ten best closer’s all time. The Twins will not have one of those in the foreseable future. Not to mention Gleeman’s play down of the position and Save stat. Before Nathan went down, the consensus was that Rauch was an above average setup guy and a definate asset to the Twins. If this Ramos for Capps deal was completed a week after Nathan went down it would have been hailed as the answer for who closes in 2010. Of course we would rather have Rauch setting up and Nathan closing. If Ramos came up and hit .241 with the Twins instead of his 7-9 start, Twins fans would not be as concerned about this trade. Bottomline: Ramos would not have helped the Twins win playoff games in 2010 or 2011. If one Jon Rauch is good, then two (essentially Capps) is better.

  • Abe

    Good analysis by Phil Mackey. The love of Ramos on this page is a bit over the top over the last 12 hours or so. The bottom line is we’ll know, at best, whether Ramos was as good as billed in about five years. For a team looking to win now that’s a long time.

    http://www.1500espn.com/sportswire/Mackey_Twins_saw_Capps_as_best_available_bullpen_arm

  • chris

    no starters were available to the Twins. Lilly didn’t want to come here. Haren wanted to stay on the west coast. Lee was too expensive and Oswalt wanted to stay in the national league. Everyone else was no different then what the Twins already had. This upgrades the bullpen by pushing Rauch to the 8th inning role and Capps in as the closer. Next year Nathan could come back OR the twins could save that money and get an OF that actually plays defense.

  • amb

    Has gleeman ever seen a trade that he liked?

  • Dave T

    What exactly is Ramos’s value? He’s a good defensive catcher that hit well in the low minors. Big f**& whoop-de-doo. He’s a PROSPECT. Meanwhile, the Twins have now replaced Duensing in the bullpen. Time to demote Blackburn to Rochester, where he can try to learn how to pitch again.

  • Scott

    I don’t understand why everyone’s argument for the trade includes the fact that Ramos wasn’t ever going to catch for the Twins, or that he wasn’t going to contribute at all in the immediate future. No one on the other side of the trade is making that argument. I think that everyone realizes he wasn’t a part of the Twins’ future. The point that Gleeman and others are making is that the Twins sold low on one of their top prospects and did so for a good, not great, reliever who they’re only guaranteed to have for 14 months. Just because Ramos doesn’t factor into their plans doesn’t mean they should trade him the first chance that they get. And most of us are agreeing that Ramos’ value has been inflated, but those for the trade are assuming he’ll never improve. He’s a 22-year old in his first season at AAA, so there is a very good chance that his stock does improve after repeating the level next year.

    Ultimately I think everyone can agree that Capps helps solidify the bullpen, but he’s not a guy that is going to vault this team to the World Series, so the win now argument kind of falls short.

  • Matt

    “Has gleeman ever seen a trade that he liked?” None that the Twins have ever made.

  • okietwin

    I’m not thrilled about this deal either. I agree with the speculation that the Twins made this deal because they could not fill their need for a starter. Where is the logic in that? We cant fill an obvious need…so instead let’s take our best trading chip and use it for a questionable need.

    HOWEVER, I am willing to give the deal the benefit of the doubt because of the FO’s outstanding record of success over the last couple of years. I came to AG site today expecting the obvious from AG and the Gleemites….and of course there it was…a complete hammering of the Twins FO for their abject stupidity in making this deal…complete with Sabermetric stats which ONLY support the writers and commenters side of the argument.

    At this point in time the question needs to be asked …”Do you ever get tired of being wrong?” Virtually every move the FO has made in the last year has not just worked out but been outstanding.
    Starting with obtaining Raush last year for nothing….the O-Cab deal….Hardy for Go-Go…the O-Dog deal….signing Thome…Pavano….the intitial reaction to ALL of these deals in this space ranged from strongly negative to over the top hammering.

    I am far from a cool-aid drinking Twins fan who rejects the opinions of “bloggers” and “stat-heads” but at what point in time do you give the FO some credit for MAYBE, POSSIBLY knowing more than you do (that is more directed at the Gleemites, then Glee himself). A very very strong argument could be made for Bill Smith as Executive of the Year and yet if comments made here about all these deals were read in a vacuum any reader would be convinced he is a complete idiot.

    As a Twin fan…..the biggest hope I have for this trade is the the fact that Gleeman and the Gleemites are hammering it again….and lately they have been wrong pretty much 100% of the time….

  • tiny

    What if trading for Capps means they can afford to let a combination of Rauch, Guerrier, and Crain walk and use the savings to resign Pavano and bring up the kids Waldrop and Delaney.

    I’d rather resign Pavano and go with Capps, Nathan and the kids.

  • Scott

    “No one on the other side of the trade is making that argument.”

    Should rather say that the other side is not making that argument.

  • Parkman

    The secondary stats don’t always tell all Aaron. If you’ve watched this guy pitch he’s a very good reliever with very good stuff. He just made this bullpen one of the best in the league moving Rausch back to a late inning reliever rather than our primary closer. ALWAYS trade prosepcts for guys who are proven in this league especially when your team is built to win NOW. Yes it’s a risk of course with prospects but it always is when trading them away. Offensively our team is top 3 in the AL and now our bullpen is also top 3. That is a good combination to win postseason games with our great 3 man roation of Liriano, Pavano and Duensing.

  • Scott

    “Starting with obtaining Raush last year for nothing….the O-Cab deal….Hardy for Go-Go…the O-Dog deal….signing Thome…Pavano….the intitial reaction to ALL of these deals in this space ranged from strongly negative to over the top hammering.”

    okietwin,

    You may want to re-think that comment. I’m quite certain that Gleeman praised the Hudson and Thome signings and the Pavano deal. I don’t think anyone was overwhelmed with the Cabrera deal, but it was solid, not great. I can’t recall his initial reaction to the Hardy trade, but I don’t believe he “hammered” it as you say. And if you can’t handle all of the scary numbers, perhaps you need to read a more mainstream site.

  • TR

    The argument that says Capps isn’t enough to get us into the World Series, so why do it, is a bogus argument. As the Cardinals from a few years ago told us and the 1987 Twins told us and numerous other examples tell us, is that that once you get into the playoffs, things happen. You simply have to take a shot. These things never work exactly the way you think they will. TAKE A SHOT!!! Once we’re in, hey, why not us….

  • brian

    Built to “win now” is all smoke and mirrors, placating the masses. Oh, I forgot, that’s what sports are all about. But in the Twins case in particular, “win now” means going out in the first round of the playoffs, while selling lots of home game tickets and merch.

    The Twins starters as now beating the Rays, Yankees, Cardinals or Phillies? For two rounds of playoffs?

    Really.

  • Kyle

    So what if he is closing for bad teams? He’s still facing the same teams every other national league team plays against. It’s not like he pitches against his own team every night.

  • Section 619

    If the Yankees would have landed Capps, at whatever cost, we’d all be whining: Where was Bill Smith? Why didn’t he make this deal?

  • mike wants wins

    To those saying this FO can do no wrong:

    Brendan Harris for two years. Nick Blackburn for 4 years….just sayin’

  • thegeneral13

    No reasonable fan whines about missing out on Matt f’ing Capps.

  • TR

    Brian: So what your solution? Forget this year? Wait till 2015 when our A ball prospects are ready? When you say, “placate the masses..”, what does that mean? That a team with a $100M payroll should quit. That I’m an idiot for thinking a team with two MVP’s can compete?

  • Scott

    @Section 619

    Uh, I wouldn’t.

    @TR

    I’d rather that the Twins didn’t make a move than overpay for a reliever. The Twins can make the playoffs without Capps, so what’s the point of your argument?

    @Parkman

    You’re really reaching on Duensing being part of a “great” three man rotation. He will never start in a potential playoff series. Baker will be the third starter.

  • Jkring

    I trust our minor league scouts and maybe they saw something in Ramos, and with 3 FA relievers next year and no guarantee that Nathan is back this is a good deal. Also, Mauer aint leaving catcher anytime soon. We are not a 50 million payroll team anymore, there will be other catchers.

  • KG

    I dont think any front office (other than maybe the Astro’s front office) is stupid enough to do a trade that basicallly every knowledgeable fan strongly disagrees if both the fans and the front office have the same amount of information. I would not be surprised if Ramos has lost a lot of trade value. He clearly hasn’t been enough to get any one else.

    Maybe the twins see his stock as greatly falling and want to ship him out while he still has some value, and because not much else is on the market, capps was the best we could get.

    I guaruntee they have other reasons for doing the trade, rather than thinking Capps’s value and Ramos’s perceived value by Twins fans is equal.

    Not that im completely for this trade by any means. But there are certainly a lot of things that are being left off the table when discussing this trade.

  • thekal

    Brian you don’t understand baseball. Just because a team is better on paper, does not mean you give up. Look at the Cardinals a few years back. Won the wildcard giving up more runs than they scored and went on to win the world series! With a little luck and a hot streak any one can do it.

  • Bernie

    They’ve overpaid for a reliever that they already have and did not address the larger issue of starring pitching.