Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Capps Punchline

“#Twins GM Bill Smith said it’s “not at all” a question if they’ll tender Matt Capps a contract and bring him back, meaning they will. #Nats”
- tweeted by Nationals beat reporter Adam Kilgore

It’s 139 characters; 120 of which make me want to put my hand in a blender, followed by 19 that make me laugh out loud. Let’s hear the punchline again:

“meaning they will.”

Ha! Get it? The clarification is needed, because the first 80% of the tweet ISN’T clear. That which Bill Smith says is “not at all” a question could be interpreted just the opposite. In fact, it SHOULD be interpreted just the opposite. There is NO WAY on gawd’s green earth the Twins should be offering Matt Capps arbitration. It should be obvious to anyone who studies the issue for a single hour what a tremendous waste of limited resources that is. Offering arbitration to Capps calls into question the sanity of the entire front office.

So let’s study this:

1. Capps is a good reliever.
Know why I’m making this point #1? Because I don’t hate Capps. I like Capps. So please, I’m begging you, don’t put a comment below that says “You just hate Matt Capps.” He’s been durable, he’s been closing for 3.5 years so far, and he was fifth in the majors this year in saves.

2. Capps is going to make $7-8M if the Twins offer him arbitration.
And for all of those reasons above, Capps is going to make a lot of money in arbitration. In fact, he might make more than $8M, depending on how aggressive his agent wants to be. But if he plays it safe and asks for $7.2M or so, there is no way he loses that arbitration case. Let’s explain why.

The value of a player in arbitration is determined by looking at comparable players, and the two main factors for determining a comparable player are:
1) Performance – How the player has compared statistically to other similar players over the last two years.
2) Tenure – This one might surprise you, but it’s a big deal, too. Capps, who has 5 years of service time, won’t be compared to Mariano Rivera (14 years of service time) or Oakland’s Andrew Bailey (1 year). He’ll be compared to players who have similar service time.

It turns out that last offseason, there were two closers with five years of service who Capps might be compared to, but neither of whom has anywhere near the 69 saves that Capps had the last two years.
  1. The first is Chad Qualls, who isn’t a great comp in any way other than service time. For instance, when he signed that deal, he had only closed for one year (he had 33 saves in 2009). He got $4.5M to melt down for the Diamondbacks this year.
  2. The second is Huston Street, who had been closing for a few years, and had 53 saves over the two previous years. He signed a 3-year deal that paid him about $7.2-$7.5M per year. He looks like the closest comp to Capps.
Unfortunately, for the Twins, the news gets worse from there. Because there were a lot of other signings last January of players between four and six years of service time that reinforce that $7M number – or even worse. They’re all reasonable for an arbitrator to look at when deciding how much Capps should be paid in his sixth year. Here they are with their service time and how many saves they had over the two previous years.
  • Jonathon Broxton (4 years, 50 saves) – signed a 2-year deal that will pay him $7M in his sixth year.
  • Bobby Jenks (4 years, 59 saves) – agreed to make $7.5M in his fifth year.
  • Jonathon Papelbon (4 years, 79 saves) – agreed to made $9.35M in his fifth year.
  • Heath Bell (4 years, 42 saves) – only made $4.5M, but that was in his fifth year and he had only closed for one year.
  • Kevin Gregg (6 years, 52 saves) – agreed as a free agent to $2.75M deal.
  • Jose Valverde (6 years, 69 saves) – agreed as a free agent to $7M per year for two years from Tigers – and also cost them a first round draft pick.
The Twins can hope that the arbitrator thinks Capps is closer to Gregg and Qualls than to Street, Valverde, Broxton, Jenks and Papelbon, but I wouldn’t count on it.

3. There are at least eight - check that, seven - better free agent relievers available for less money than Capps.
It’s down to seven because one signed yesterday. The Tigers inked Joaquin Benoit to three-year deal for $5.5M per year. He’s the first significant free agent middle reliever signed, and it looks like they overpaid to get him. He’ll probably serve as a setup man this year and a closer after Valverde’s contract ends. Let’s look at Capps and Benoit’s stats and you tell me which one is better:

Player A: 73 IP, 2.47 ERA, 1.260 WHIP, 7.27 K/9IP
Player B: 60.3 IP, 1.34 ERA, .680 WHIP, 11.1 K/9IP

Player B is better at striking players out, limiting hits, limiting walks, and not giving up runs. He’s also going to be two million dollars cheaper next year, because that’s Benoit. Capps on the other hand pitched a few more innings – and tallied 42 saves.

Not every reliever can be a closer – I get that. But did anything about Capps’ performance last year make you think “Ooh, he has ice in his veins?” Capps is a good reliever, but there are a lot of great relievers who are free agents this year, and Benoit is going to be one of the most expensive.

In short, if the Twins offer $7.5M to Capps, they are choosing him over two relievers, both of whom are better than him. In a year in which almost the entire bullpen is filing for free agency, that’s close to unforgivable.

4. Trading away Wilson Ramos should not have any bearing on this decision.
The fact that the Twins gave up catching prospect Wilson Ramos for Capps should have nothing to do with this decision. The fact that the Twins justified trading Ramos for Capps because Capps was arbitration-eligible should have nothing to do with this decision. Ramos is gone. He no longer matters to this team. If that’s part of the decision-making process, someone needs to remind the front office to look forward, not back. If that’s part of the decision-making process, someone needs to ask if the front office is more focused on making the team better or covering their collective ass.

Instead, the question is whether the Twins are better off spending $7.5M on Capps or on other players. After a little study, I’ll agree with Smith that it is “not at all” a question.

I just disagree with the punchline.


Ryan said...

Any chance you think the front office is offering Capps arbitration so he signs with us at a reasonable rate (and we likely won't need a closer), then we have a guy with closer material at a reasonable salary that we can trade for something good at the deadline? Might be a bit of a reach, but you never know...

TT said...

Geek -

The problem is with your comparisons. None of the players "available" are going to sign one year deals for less than 48 million. In other words, the Twins will have to commit MORE money in order to sign them. Benoit got $16 million.

And that assumes that they would sign with the Twins rather than another team. The reality is every team in baseball is looking for relievers. The free agents get to choose the team they play for. For most, money will be only one factor in where they decide to play.

It might surprise Minnesotans, but spending six months in the bland suburban mecca of the Twin Cities may not be the first choice for a lot of 20-something baseball players. Its certainly not the first choice for a lot of other 20-somethings. Nice people maybe, but not very exciting.

The free agent market is not one where the teams can pick the player they want. You underestimate the value of having control over the player. Capps is worth more than $8 million in the free agent market and the Twins don't have to worry that they will lose him to some other team.

TT said...

Obviously, that should be "less than $8million"

Anonymous said...

That's a little more reasonable.

Anonymous said...

You just hate Matt Capps.

John said...


I apprectiate the game attempt at a retort, but would you honestly take Capps at 1/7.5 over Benoit at 3/16.5? As for other names that are also cheaper, how about...

Grant Balfour
Jason Frasor
JJ Putz
Jeremy Affeldt
Frank Francisco

Those are off the top of my head. Hell, I'd add Crain, too. I'm quite sure a sharp guy like you can find some other names, too.

I agree that this move isn't totally without risk, but that's a hell of price to pay to avoid a little risk. And I'd argue that the real risk is just how depleted this bullpen is going to be in the 7th and 8th innings if they commit $7.5 to Capps.

John said...

Anonymous, I'm so proud of you. I can't believe it took someone 12 hours to come up with that comment. And Ryan, shame on you you. "You just hate Matt Capps" should've been the first comment. I was just begging for it.

Ryan, to answer your question, the way to get Capps to sign at a reasonable rate is to threaten him with not offering arbitration. Once you offer it, he's locked into a 1 year/$7M deal. There is no reason for him to bargain at that point, other than to get multiple years. Smith loses leverage - maybe significant leverage - by saying it's a no-brainer to offer him arbitration.

Anonymous said...

I'll save my outrage for when he actually gets 1 year, $7.5 million.

rghrbek said...


Great post. I wish the beat writers would expound upon this issue much more. For me, and some of my twins buddies, we all agree, there is no way you should offer arbitration to Capps. It's pretty cut and dry for us, for the reasons you state in your blog

I think you do hit on it though, sometimes this organization does things, because they don't want to look bad. Trading Ramos for a 1/2 a year of a guy, is something they don't wanna have to deal with, which I think is silly.

Ian said...

Not overly worried about this. Capps was, according to fangraphs, our best relief arm when we got him. His WAR (depending on which version you like) was higher than Balfour, Frasor, etc. He's simply younger and better than those guys. It's a one year deal and with Nathan and Neshek still rehabbing, Crain, Rauch and Guerrier probably leaving, keeping our best relief pitcher seems like a good idea. Non tendering him is as short sighted as non tendering Hardy.

Ryan said...

But is it a no-brainer to offer him arbitration so we have something to deal at the deadline? I mean, considering how cash strapped it looks like we are (even with an increase in payroll) and how weak the market is for position players we need (2B, SS) as well as SP, doesn't it make sense to have a guy that many teams might need at the deadline so maybe we can snag something if Casilla sucks, Hardy gets injured again, etc.?

I'm trying to find some good news here, John. Maybe if you hated him less...(does that make up for it?)

Anonymous said...

"Non tendering him is as short sighted as non tendering Hardy." This isnt true at all. There is almost no quality on the free agent SS market, and if hardy were non tendered hed immediately become arguably the best SS available. 6-7 million for a solidly above average SS with there are no better options let alone better cheaper options should be a slam dunk. Capps is different in a lot of ways. The relief pitching market is deep, his dollar value would be half of what it will be if he wasnt a closer, which the twins should look to pay for. Capps value is inflated and he overvalued for things besides pitcher ability in a deep market. Capps could be replaced with better cheaper options. I dont see how hes like hardy at all. Paying 20 mil for capps and nathan is an absurd allocation of money.

TT said...

"I apprectiate the game attempt at a retort, but would you honestly take Capps at 1/7.5 over Benoit at 3/16.5? "

Of course. Capps is younger, better and an experienced closer. Benoit just had a career year.His career WHIP is 1.349, worse than Capps last year. And it isn't really very likely he suddenly improved that much at his age. Committing twice as much money to an aging arm would be stupid.

But my point is that there is no reason to think that Benoit, or any of the other players you listed, would sign with the Twins. With Nathan coming back, this is not the place for anyone who is looking to be a closer.

TT said...

"Paying 20 mil for capps and nathan is an absurd allocation of money."

Which just reinforces the point about multi-year contacts. Nathan's money is already committed. They "allocated" that much for him last year too. Frankly, how much they are paying Nathan is irrelevant to the decision on Capps other than as an example of the downside of multi-year contracts.

Frankly signing aging players to multi-year contracts while only considering the impact on one year's budget is the sort of thing bad organizations do. The market for Hardy is going to be a lot smaller than for any of the relievers out there. All 30 teams need quality pitchers for their bullpen. There are only a handful that would consider paying Hardy anything like what he will get from arbitration.

ccnp traning in delhi said...

very nice blog dear.

JfW said...

I think TT has pointed out that Benoit's contact wasn't such a great idea. yet still, I don't see how tendering a marginally talented closer like Capps an arbitration contract is a particularily good idea either.

walter hanson said...

the two key questions are:

Assuming that Nathan comes back is he closer ready? It took Liranio two plus years to come back. No Nathan we have to be ready for the ninth inning. We'll pay 7.2 million to have some rights to get a potential closer in 2012.

Two, lets not forget that Nathan's salary for 2010 was paid for by insurance. I doubt that we can get that insurance again.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN

TT said...

"I don't see how tendering a marginally talented closer like Capps an arbitration contract is a particularily good idea either."

I think when the alternative is counting on an aging Nathan it is. Or when the alternative is signing someone similar to Benoit to a multi-year contract. Or pretending that Anthony Slama or Rob Delaney are major league closers.

TT said...

Contracts for those "cheaper" alternatives:

Grant Balfour $8 million
Jason Frasor (in arbitration)
JJ Putz $10 million
Jeremy Affeldt $9.5 million contract signed in May
Frank Francisco (in arbitration)

Not one of those guys came for less money than Capps. And none of them are really closer material. I think you are letting your hostility to saves color your evaluation.

Sam said...

TT, you're not accounting for years. Capps $7.15 million is a 1-year deal. Balfour, Putz, and Affeldt are all 2-year contracts at $4-5 million/year, several million less than Capps.

Not gonna lie, Capps terrifies me. Gave up the 7th most hits of MLB relievers and has the lowest strikeout total of any AL Central closer (including Jenks).

TT said...

Sam -

I realize that those are multi-year deals. Any signing has risk to it for both players and teams. Thats why players want multi-year contracts and teams only give them one if they accept less money per season.

The fact is not one of the players listed could be had by the Twins for the money they are paying Capps. There really isn't a long list, or even a short list, of capable replacements available at any price.

Anonymous said...

Grant Balfour $8 million
Jason Frasor (in arbitration)
JJ Putz $10 million
Jeremy Affeldt $9.5 million contract signed in May
Frank Francisco (in arbitration)

Those 3 have signed 2 year contracts. You conveniently left that out. Divide there numbers by 2 for the actual salaries. Are you a Republican with the misrepresentations and half-truths?

Sam said...

TT, I don't see why we wouldn't "risk" an additional million or two overall to have a suitable reliever for 2 years instead of one.
Either way, it's a moot point now, Capps is going to clog our payroll this season, but hopefully we have room to maneuver one year from now when Kubel's contract is potentially off the books.

CCIE Voice Training said...

Nice stuff written by the blogger, really liked the content