Friday, November 25, 2011

Salary Capps

In the same conference call this week in which Terry Ryan stated the Twins arbitration intentions regarding ranked free agents Michael Cuddyer, Matt Capps and Jason Kubel and in which he confirmed the Ryan Doumit signing, Ryan made a curious statement regarding the Twins bullpen plans in the post-Joe Nathan era:

History says you might want to have somebody with (closing) experience, and usually people pitch themselves into that situation. Granted, (Glen Perkins) had a very good year; he just doesn't have the experience. 

Matt Capps,
proven closer.
The word "might" qualifies that statement enough that I won't call it absolute rubbish. But rubbish it is.

A truly accurate reading of the history of bullpens would be more heavily on the side of inexperience. As Aaron Gleeman immediately pointed out on Twitter, Joe Nathan had one career save when the Twins made him their closer. His predecessor in the job, Eddie Guardado, hadn't been a closer before the Twins handed him the job. Rick Aguliera had seven career saves when Tom Kelly converted him from starter to closer.

Now, I don't have a problem with deciding that Perkins is more valuable pitching in the seventh and eighth innings than he would be locked into the ninth-inning job. (I think he is.) And it may be the Twins don't trust Perkins sufficiently to hand him the glory job in November. They may think it better to make him earn it by outpitching somebody this spring.

That somebody may yet be Matt Capps. Nobody's going to argue that Capps had a good 2011, but Ryan has suggested that his problems stemmed from pitching through inflammation in his wrist. Capps' new status as a "modified Type B" gives the Twins some incentive to let him go, and much of the Twins' Internet community is eager to be rid of him.  But reading between the lines, I think Ryan, Ron Gardenhire and company would prefer to keep Capps.

There is a price point at which I would expect Capps to return. That price point is probably somewhat south of his 2011 salary (he pulled in more than $7 million) and somewhat south of Joe Nathan's deal with Texas (also more than $7 million in each of the next two years). Capps at $5 million or less a year? That seems like a real possibility to me. (Seth Stohs thinks it should be less than half that, but I don't think he'll go that cheap.)

And I'm fine with that. I don't want the closer job to be a priority. I want bullpen depth to be a priority. Gardenhire's history with bullpens -- this is an accurate reading of history -- tells me that one closer and one strong set-up guy isn't enough. He needs a closer and three guys (at least three) for the seventh and eighth innings. If he has too few, he's either going to lose games with poor relievers or get his useful ones hurt through overwork.

If the Twins add a "proven closer," they're a step closer to having that depth coming into camp than they would be if Perkins is the leading candidate to close.

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