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Updated: December 6th, 2011 10:57am
Mackey: Matt Capps deal not as bad as thought, but more cons than pros

Mackey: Matt Capps deal not as bad as thought, but more cons than pros

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

DALLAS -- The people outraged at the Minnesota Twins for re-signing closer Matt Capps are overreacting.

But the people outraged also have a right to be outraged, to some degree.

The signing should be treated with shades of gray.

Pros

• Capps has been a solid late-inning pitcher in three of the last five seasons, posting ERAs of 2.28, 3.02 and 2.47 at his best, and he deserves the benefit of the doubt that 2011 was a bit of an aberration because of wrist and forearm discomfort -- ailments suffered in part due to overusage early in the season.

• Let's be honest -- $4.5 million of a $100 million payroll isn't exactly crippling. The deal sounds worse because the Twins are pressed against their budget limit, but signing Capps likely doesn't affect the team's plans to add a high-impact free agent (Michael Cuddyer, Mark Buehrle, etc.).

• If the Twins play their cards right, and if Capps pitches well early in the season, it's possible Terry Ryan could trade the right-hander before the July 31 deadline to a team looking for late-inning bullpen help. This is the type of thing teams should be doing more of -- cultivating closers and trading them for younger, cheaper pieces. Wash, rinse, repeat.

That said, it would be one thing if Capps was one of the final pieces being added to a division-contending team. But he isn't. Yet. The Twins still have a ton of work to do.

Cons

• Along with baseball's new collective bargaining agreement came an adjustment to this year's ranked free agent system. Capps was among a group of relievers demoted from Type-A to Type-B, and even more importantly, that group of Type-B relievers became eligible to earn draft-pick compensation for their former clubs without those clubs being forced to offer arbitration.

In other words, had Capps signed with a different team, the Twins would have earned a sandwich draft pick between the first and second rounds. No strings attached.

For a 99-loss team so clearly in need of an influx of young talent, passing up a high-end draft pick for a $4.5 million relief pitcher coming off a bad season seems questionable.

It's even more questionable when considering the whole scope of what the Twins have given up for Capps going back to 2010 -- Wilson Ramos, a compensation draft pick, and more than $11 million over the past two years. 

• The Twins insist that Capps' forearm discomfort last season is being overblown, and the fact that he was able to pitch through it without landing on the disabled list is an indicator that the issue wasn't serious. But Capps lost velocity and movement on his fastball from 2010 to 2011, and his breaking stuff was less consistent.

• A baseball source with knowledge of the discussions said other teams were interested in signing Capps as a closer, but it sounds as if that interest was pretty mild. That doesn't necessarily mean the Twins were bidding against themselves, but it sounds like they were bidding against teams that preferred to use Capps in earlier innings.

• The Twins made it clear leading up to the winter meetings that they felt more comfortable leaving Glen Perkins in his role as set-up man and bringing in a ninth-inning guy who was more familiar with the role.

So in some ways, it seems as if the Twins may have overvalued Capps based on two arbitrary labels -- "experienced" and "closer."

Take away those two labels for a minute and ask this: Should a reliever coming off a poor season, with drop-offs in "stuff" and strikeouts, not to mention forearm discomfort, be worth more than $4 million?

Probably not.

Of course, the Twins' last three successful closers -- Joe Nathan, Eddie Guardado and Rick Aguilera -- were all thrown into the fire without much prior ninth-inning experience.

The Twins still have several holes left to fill, and the remaining offseason budget now shrinks even more with the addition of Capps. If Capps isn't a risk, he's certainly a luxury the Twins don't need until they build a roster that can see over the .500 hump.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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