January 30, 2012

Matt Capps, Axl Rose, and the Twins’ bullpen

Back on December 5 when the Twins re-signed Matt Capps my objection to the move focused on three things. One was that he just isn't a closer-caliber pitcher. Two was that $4.75 million is far too high a price, particularly given their payroll constraints this offseason. And three was that in re-signing him they forfeited a supplemental first-round draft pick that would have been worth more than $1 million while aiding the much-needed rebuilding process.

There was a fourth issue, which is that this year's free agent class was as packed with quality veteran relievers as any in history and for a team that had baseball's worst bullpen last year there were far better ways to address that weakness for $4.75 million. However, at the time that was mostly an assumption, as many of those relievers had yet to sign and exactly what the Twins could have gotten instead for that same $4.75 million was purely hypothetical.

Eight weeks later the free agent reliever market has proven to be every bit as buyer-friendly as expected and then some, with quality veterans being forced to settle for modest one-year deals or even minor-league offers. And the Twins spending $4.75 million of their limited payroll space on Capps actually looks even worse now than it did then, as they've watched reliever after reliever come off the board for discount prices while mostly sitting on their hands.

At the beginning of the offseason I highlighted 14 veteran relievers who were worth targeting and figured to be reasonably priced. One of them, Frank Francisco, secured a multi-year deal. One of them, Joel Peralta, never actually hit the open market. And the other 12 either agreed to one-year contracts for less than Capps--and in some cases significantly less--or still remain unsigned with spring training right around the corner.

Jonathan Broxton      $4.00 million
Octavio Dotel         $3.50 million
Jon Rauch             $3.50 million
LaTroy Hawkins        $3.00 million
Takashi Saito         $1.75 million
George Sherrill       $1.10 million
Brad Lidge            $1.00 million
Dan Wheeler           Minor-league deal
Todd Coffey           Unsigned
Mike Gonzalez         Unsigned
Chad Qualls           Unsigned
Michael Wuertz        Unsigned

None of those dozen relievers got as much as Capps and in fact for the same $4.75 million the Twins could have signed two, three, or even four of them while also gaining a draft pick. And those are just the relievers I projected as bargains in November. It turns out the market was so saturated with quality veterans that Francisco Cordero, who saved 37 games with a 2.45 ERA last season, had to settle for a one-year, $4.5 million deal and a setup role.

I've never understood the Twins' infatuation with Capps, who cost them Wilson Ramos to get in mid-2009 and $7.15 million to keep for 2010, but the decision to re-sign him for $4.75 million is particularly baffling given the assortment of other, cheaper options. Not only did they vastly overrate Capps for the third time, they seemingly did so while failing to recognize how flooded the reliever market was. They couldn't wait to re-sign Capps and that impatience hurt them.

Cordero signed for less than Capps. Octavio Dotel and Brad Lidge combined to sign for less than Capps. Heck, for that same $4.75 million the Twins gave Capps there's a decent chance they could have built an entire bullpen of similarly valuable veterans like Lidge, Dan Wheeler, Todd Coffey, Chad Qualls, and Michael Wuertz. And that doesn't even factor in the draft pick they forfeited for the privilege of overpaying Capps in what was clearly a buyer's market.

Maybe the Twins still have a bullpen move up their sleeve and if they can sign, say, Coffey to a cheap one-year deal or add Wuertz on a minor-league contract the decision to overpay for a mediocre Capps in a reliever-rich market won't appear quite so bumbling. It still won't appear smart, of course, and the entire decision-making process has been flawed to say the least. For some reason that's standard operating procedure when it comes to the Twins and Capps.

21 Comments »

  1. let’s hope coffey and wuertz are in twins’ uniforms soon. what are the chances of harden and sheets signing inexpensive contracts with the twins? both have injury histories.

    Comment by jfs — January 29, 2012 @ 11:04 pm

  2. NetNewsWire is a good app.

    Don’t worry too much about the Mac. It quickly becomes much less complicated than others.

    Comment by Daniel — January 29, 2012 @ 11:45 pm

  3. I would have liked to see them use the money they spent on Capps to bring in 2 solid guys. They definitely overpaid a little but he is better than he was last season. With the way closers are viewed in the elias rankings. Maybe the feeling was he can have a ok year while racking up a number of saves and get a better compensation pick next year than they would have this year.

    Comment by Trevor — January 30, 2012 @ 12:13 am

  4. With the way closers are viewed in the elias rankings. Maybe the feeling was he can have a ok year while racking up a number of saves and get a better compensation pick next year than they would have this year.

    The new collective bargaining agreement made major changes to the compensatory system for free agents. There is zero chance of Capps netting the Twins a draft pick next offseason.

    Comment by aarongleeman — January 30, 2012 @ 12:30 am

  5. That’s depressing. Thanks Aaron.

    Comment by Jeff — January 30, 2012 @ 7:11 am

  6. It’s really only depressing if they compound the mistake, again, by not adding other value options.

    But as Aaron points out, it’s been a series of bad valuations regarding deals that include Capps.

    Comment by MC — January 30, 2012 @ 7:24 am

  7. For the life of me I can’t figure out why it is the Twins fall in love with mediocre players. Remember that ridiculous contract they gave to Punto? Or the decision to lock up Blackburn long-term?

    Comment by Matt — January 30, 2012 @ 8:17 am

  8. Terry Ryan was on the 1500 ESPN last Friday. He was asked which sabermetrics he found useful and which ones he doesn’t find to hold much value. He immediately discounted range statistics and said he found runs produce, whip, and pitches per inning all useful, but the one statistic he and the rest of the Twins evaluation team value over all other is BMP, or to the layperson, Bulldog Mentality Perception.

    Clearly they are ahead of the next big thing.

    Comment by spoofbonser — January 30, 2012 @ 8:20 am

  9. I continued to be baffled by the thought process of the front office. This isn’t even 20/20 hindsight, because Gleeman (along with many other intelligent folks) said the Twins made a bad move at the time of the deal. Sure, no one knew with certainty what the alternatives would sign for (and we won’t know how they’ll all perform until after the season, but simple/objective analysis seems to be outside of the “Twins Way.” I really wish this team had a rigorous & objective financial audit, so fans & lawmakers could get a better gauge on how much this team is actually profiting year after year. I’m not against making money, but I am against a cavalcade of disingenuous statements from the front office after they received a large public subsidy to finance their new ballpark. Go Baseball!

    Comment by Paulie — January 30, 2012 @ 8:39 am

  10. In fairness to the Twins, they know Capps and teh exnted his injury limited him last year. They likely feel that he’s better than last year showed and also value his willingness to take the ball when <100%. That's part of the "BMP" and, despite its hard-to-quantify statworthiness, it IS a value that most clubs hold, even the sabermetrically inclined.

    Also, you have to at least acknowledge that Zumaya was exactly the sort of signing that AG pines for here: a low budget strike thrower who could help in the late innings if healthy. A common thread through most of those bargain guys is that they are old and/or injury prone. Of course, the same could be said of Capps, but again, there's the devil-you-know aspect to a Capps resigning.

    All that said, I still agree with AG's basic point. The Twins failed to recognize basic supply and demand here. I'd MUCH rather have Broxton or Cordero and a guy like Mike Gonzalez than Capps for the same price.

    Comment by BR — January 30, 2012 @ 9:08 am

  11. AG are you sure Sergeant Slaughter isn’t your dad?

    Comment by Mike — January 30, 2012 @ 9:25 am

  12. The Cordero example sticks out. I suspect you’d (rightfully) slam the Twins FO if they used ERA and Saves as the reason to sign a veteran reliever. I’m no expert but it looks like Cordero had one of his worst years when you look at K/9 or FIP/xFIP versus the rest of his career.

    Capps had a similarily bad 2011 but at 8 years younger than Cordero, I could see liking him to bounce back better.

    To be clear, I don’t love Capps and the prospect is a real cost. It’s also hard to like Capps over multiple guys from that list for the same money. That being said, I could argue his case one on one versus the guys in the 3-4 million category.

    Comment by TB — January 30, 2012 @ 11:26 am

  13. One of Capps, or 2-3 of the others….I’d rather have 2-3 of the others for the same price. The prospect is a bit of gravy to me. Though, if M&M&S are not fully healthy, the prospect is probably more important….

    Comment by mike wants wins — January 30, 2012 @ 2:04 pm

  14. “Though, if M&M&S are not fully healthy, the prospect is probably more important….”

    If?

    Comment by by jiminy — January 30, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

  15. Now we know who Aaron will be dressing up as for Halloween next year….

    Comment by spoof bonser — January 30, 2012 @ 3:27 pm

  16. How did you get a picture of Gleeman in camo 10 years in the future, and who is that little kid with him?

    Comment by Snifty — January 30, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

  17. Love this post. Of course, 20/20 hindsight comes into play here a bit. But I think Aaron and others could look at the market and predict that guys like Lidge and Saito were not going to get $8 million deals. I’ve had some friends make fun of me for complaining that we didn’t get some of the guys on that list because they think they all suck. That isn’t the point. First, I highly doubt that most of them will suck more than Capps will in 2012. Second, even if they did, you have a better chance of success trying two or three of them and hitting on one, than just signing Capps. Third, we would have gotten yet another compensatory pick if Capps leaves (similar to the Cuddy for Willingham situation). Fourth, we could have saved some more money under the $100 million “cap” to possibly acquire another positional upgrade, though it’s unlikely the Twins would have done this anyway.

    I think people undervalue the fact that the bullpen was ravaged from 2010 to 2011 and that our failure to do anything except promote from within wasn’t going to work when guys like Guerrier and Crain logged major innings for this team for years.

    Comment by Jeff H — January 31, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

  18. When is Gleeman going to finally understand the importance of closer experience? So what if Capps isn’t very good? He’s closed before. That is worth at least 3 million and a draft pick by itself, making 1.75 mil for Capps based on his capability as a pitcher look about right.

    Sheesh. There is a reason Gleeman is writing articles on a free website and the Twins are putting together a powerhouse pitching rotation.

    Comment by Jake — February 1, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  19. Matt Capps = Nick Punto

    Comment by Tim K — February 2, 2012 @ 6:45 am

  20. As a Matt Capps owner in rotisserie, all I can say is, I wasn’t keeping him @$1, but now I am – Twins are going to have to use him to close or embarass themselves even more…I remain, A Grateful Jays Fan

    Comment by Moran Lowiq B. Eeghuzzar, aka King Vacuous I — February 2, 2012 @ 4:30 pm

  21. The Twins’ “infatuation” with Capps is easy to explain. The minute they give up on him is the minute they confirm they were fools for trading Ramos for him, and have to watch Ramos develop into a solid player day after day while they have nothing. The Twins are (unreasonably) holding onto hope that Capps is going to get better, and save that deal. It’s a common mistake in many areas of business and life — not admitting you were wrong and simply cutting your losses.

    Comment by Webman — February 4, 2012 @ 2:33 am

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