“All-Star closer Matt Capps is coming to the Twin Cities” announced a breathless La Velle E. Neil III yesterday after the reliever was traded by the Nationals to the Twins in exchange for highly touted catching prospect Wilson Ramos and lefty Joe “Jersey Beat” Testa. Aside from kicking Jon Rauch Rumble to the curb, Hardball Talk’s Aaron Gleeman opines that while Minnesota acquired “a good, solid late-inning reliever”, they’ve allowed themselves to be gouged based on Capps’ “93 saves for bad teams”.
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.
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 bullpen. What he’s not is an elite reliever or enough of an upgrade to part with Ramos.
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.