MINNEAPOLIS, MN - Matt Capps of the Minnesota Twins delivers a pitch against the Baltimore Orioles in the seventh inning in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Orioles defeated the Twins 6-1. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
The Twins sure have expended a lot of time and energy to make sure that Matt Capps hangs around. What's the fascination?
It's not unusual for teams to have logjams with their good young players. The Reds had Joey Votto and Yonder Alonso vying for the same spot. The Padres had to choose between Sandy Alomar, Jr. and Benito Santiago. It took the Giants a few years before they admitted that there was only one position for both Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey. It's not the worst problem to have.
The Minnesota Twins had a similar problem a couple of years ago. The face of the franchise was a young catcher in his prime, and they also had a young catcher who was one of the best prospects in the system. They could have kept them both, either by switching positions or having the players share time at a physically demanding position, but they decided to cash in on that chip. Before the 2010 season, Wilson Ramos was the No. 2 prospect for the Twins. That surely had some serious trade value, right?
So, Matt Capps.
The Twins were a game back when they sent Ramos and Joe Testa to the Nationals for Matt Capps; they won the AL Central by six games. So in one way, it was a success -- not that Matt Capps was the man behind the 6.5-game swing, but the team made the playoffs with a closer they trusted, which is what the team was hoping when the trade went down. Capps pitched well. It wasn't a catastrophic trade. Yet.
In 2011, the Twins might have had their worst year in franchise history. Not from a win-loss standpoint, but it was surely the most disappointing. The Twins expected to contend, but they lost 99 games. Their two big stars spent chunks of the year on the disabled list with enigmatic, freaky injuries. Free agents flopped; prospects stalled. And it became clear that their 28-year-old catcher, with seven years left on a huge deal, probably wasn't going to be a full-time catcher for long. Just to hammer home how cruel that twist of fate was, Twins catchers hit .185/250/.259 as a group, and Wilson Ramos emerged for the Washington Nationals.
Matt Capps was decidedly average while this was all going on. Considering that he was being paid something like a top closer, he was probably worse. His strikeout rate plummeted. His ERA was in the fours. But there was a silver lining! Because of the new CBA, the Twins could get a draft pick for Capps after he signed somewhere else. It was a loophole good for this year only -- next year, a team would have to offer him a $12 million contract to qualify for a pick.
It wasn't all bad, then. After the trade and 2011 performance, the Twins were at least going to get a pick for Capps. Maybe the pick would turn out to be a prospect who was even better than Ramos. The supplemental round isn't usually a great haven for future contributors, but stranger things have happened.
Instead, the Twins jumped on Capps in the free-agent market, signing him for $4.75 million. They indirectly gave up a prospect for him for the second time. Later in the offseason, all sorts of relievers signed for bargain prices, from Takashi Saito to Francisco Cordero, The Twins could have had any of them and an extra draft pick.
The analogy that keeps popping into my head, even if it's imperfect, is the James Woods character from Casino. The Twins aren't quite as disheveled as Sharon Stone in that movie, nor is Capps nearly as creepy or useless as Woods. All things being equal, Capps is a very useful part to almost any bullpen. But you spend Casino thinking, what in the world does she see in that guy that no one else does? How exactly has he ensorcelled those once-reasonable people? How do they keep going further into the muck with him?
The Twins aren't a rich team, and considering the contracts that Mauer and Justin Morneau are still due, they're going to need the flexibility that cheap prospects provide. It's still okay to think of the Twins as a smart, well-run team that was enjoying small-market success without a book and movie PR campaign. But somewhere along the way, they'll have given away two prospects and about $12 million to Matt Capps for an unknown reason. It's not the kind of thing that will ruin an organization. It's just really, really strange.