Since taking over as Twins GM, Bill Smith has had something of a roller coaster ride. He inherited a bad situation in which watched the franchise player walk away for basically nothing and traded the best pitcher in baseball at the time for a track runner and a bag of chips. Some of that was forgivable, but the real killer was the Matt Garza/Delmon Young trade, which saw Tampa Bay acquire two players who have been instrumental in their success (plus a minor leaguer) in exchange for three players who, until this year, hardly did anything of value for the Twins. Smith, of course, went on tear as GM, making multiple savvy moves: Cabrera, Rauch and Pavano last year, and adding Hudson, Thome, and JJ Hardy this year. Delmon Young suddenly turning into a top 25 hitter seemed to be the icing on the cake: Smith was on an absolute roll.
My reaction to the Capps/Ramos trade wasn’t my most thoughtful, reasonable, level-headed moment. It went something like… “WTF YOU HAVE GOT TO BE SH!++!N& ME!!! Wilson RAMOS…for a good (but not great reliever), and we had to add a THROW-IN?!?!? ARRRRGH!” The move is certainly frustrating when taking the long-view, but in the short term, it’s beneficial.
Capps helps THIS team THIS year. Ramos wouldn’t help them this year, or any time soon. That in and of itself takes some of the sting out. While the Twins probably should have gotten more for Ramos, the bottom line is they had very little use for him. Losing him as a player doesn’t hurt; losing him as an asset does.
Capps certainly makes this team better and helps the bullpen. In fact, his benefit to the bullpen might be even greater than anticipated. Many writers are claiming that Capps is simply Jon Rauch with a mid-90′s fastball. That claim is over-simplified. Capps walks fewer batters and strikes out more batters. At least this year, he has increased his groundball rate to almost 50%, while Rauch remains a flyball pitcher. Furthermore, while Capps allows a perfectly average percentage of home runs, Rauch has an unsustainably-low home run rate that is bound to regress as the season goes on. The upgrade to Capps over Rauch’s likely regression is large: Given that Rauch allows so many flyballs in the first place, his regression on home run rate could very well have a large impact on his overall performance. Capps doesn’t look like he’s due for a regression. As far as the closer is concerned, this is an upgrade.
There is also the indirect benefit to the bullpen. As Aaron Gleeman pointed out back on July 12, one of Rauch’s biggest assets is his durability, and that asset has not been utilized at all since moving to the closer role. Moving Rauch out of the closer role and into a setup role should mean more innings for Rauch and less work for Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, and Jose Mijares. Basically, trading for Capps allows the Twins to inject into their middle-to-late relief core a guy who can be counted on to go for more than one inning frequently.
The benefits of the Capps trade come down to this: He’s an upgrade in the closer spot over Rauch, and, by moving Rauch into a middle relief/setup role, he gives the Twins a durable arm to spread the workload of getting from the starter to the closer. That should help this team win this year, and that’s something that a lot of fans have been clamoring for this team to do for a long time: sacrifice some long-term stability for a chance to put yourself over the top.
Of course, this isn’t THAT big of a move. Part of what makes this move sting so much is that, no more than a month ago, Ramos was rumored to be the centerpiece of a deal for Cliff Lee. The truth is, though, that the Twins just couldn’t have made the kind of offer that Texas did. Justin Smoak is a switch-hitting power hitter who is just about major-league ready and was ranked the 13th best overall prospect in America this last spring. Ramos was ranked number 58. Given what the Mariners ended up getting (and almost got) for Lee, it’s clear that a package headlined by Ramos was never going to get that deal done.
Ramos is a very, very good talent, but he hasn’t done the Twins any favors in terms of keeping up his value. After hitting .288/.346/.434 in 126 games for Fort Meyers in 2008, Ramos missed significant playing time in 2009 due to injury, and has struggled mightily at AAA in 2010, batting only .241/.280/.345 while fighting through some minor injuries. His value was probably as low as it could be.
This, though, is where my biggest beef with this trade comes in. If Ramos’ value was at its lowest, why trade him now? There was certainly no harm in letting him play every day at AAA with the hope that he could increase his trade value. Even with his struggles this year and moderate injury history, a stretch of good play should have gotten the Twins more than one above-average reliever, one who, by the way, was available for basically nothing at the start of the year. Had the Twins exercised a little more foresight and gotten bullpen help at the start of the year, this move would have been unnecessary.
To sum up: Capps undoubtedly helps the bullpen this year. I think he’s more of an upgrade at closer than most are assuming. Capps also makes the bullpen deeper and more durable, since his acquisition will move Rauch into a setup role. However, to get him, the Twins sold as low as they could have on a very good (but maybe not great) prospect. This is a good move for the 2010 team. It’s a pretty lousy move for the organization as a whole. Grade: C