Let’s Not Rush to Judge “the Trade”

Matt Capps

As I went to bed last night, I still wasn’t sure how I felt about the Twins trade of premier catching prospect Wilson Ramos along with minor league pitcher Joe Testa to the Nationals for closer Matt Capps and half a million dollars cash. This morning, I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

I admit I haven’t had time yet to read many of the reactions from the rest of the Twins blogosphere, but I do feel most of this community tends to overvalue the Twins’ prospects, so I’m guessing the reaction in the blogs will be largely negative. TwinsGeek John Bonnes found eight things he didn’t like about the trade, while over in Section 219, Howard Sinker seemed to offer a conditional thumbs up to the deal.

I’m not a terribly patient person, by nature, but I’m going to suggest we all try to exercise some patience here. There’s no doubt in my mind that this trade makes this year’s Twins better. How much better? That’s certainly a fair topic for debate. Capps is probably a moderately better closer than Jon Rauch, but that’s only part of the story. Adding a reliever at the top of the bullpen food chain has a ripple effect which means (or should mean, anyway) that the Twins would actually be replacing their LAST arm in the pen with Capps.

Who you feel that person is depends on how you personally feel about Ron Mahay, Jose Mijares and Nick Blackburn. Mahay and Mijares are lefties and with Brian Duensing in the rotation, it seems unlikely they’ll be sent packing. There’s also an argument to be made that Blackie, if he’s ever going to regain his effectiveness, needs to pitch regularly in Rochester rather than waiting around for a long relief spot in Minnesota. But if he leaves, who exactly IS the Twins long reliever who can go 3+ innings if the starting pitcher struggles early? [EDIT: I realized I should have also included Anthony Slama on the list of guys that could be bumped to make room for Capps. Sitting here thinking about it, unless they decide Blackburn needs regular starts, he’s probably the guy on his way out for now.-JC]

Then there’s that $500,000 that the Twins are getting back from the Nationals. What’s that all about? We can certainly all speculate about just how close the Twins are to being maxed out on their payroll for the year, but it just seems odd that half a mil would have a major bearing on that issue. I mean, that’s a good chunk of change for you and me, but for a Major League Baseball team?

Weighing all of this brings me to only one logical conclusion. Bill Smith isn’t done yet.

I realize MLB Trade Rumors is reporting that the Cubs and Dodgers are talking about a deal to send Ted Lilly to LA and they mention that the Twins (and other teams) have “cooled” on Lilly. But whether it’s Lilly or someone else, I’m betting (or at least hoping) Smith is fairly certain he’s going to land a lefty starting pitcher. It may or may not be before Saturday’s non-waiver deadline, but that’s really a pretty soft deadline these days because of the size of contracts the players involved have. They pass through waivers pretty freely.

If the Twins do pick up a LH starter, it frees them to push Duensing back in to his role as the team’s long reliever AND top lefty out of the pen. That sends either Mahay or Mijares packing (I’m guessing Mijares to Rochester). Of course, the Twins don’t have Ramos around to deal for a top lefty SP any more, but I have to figure the teams they’re talking to about such players weren’t after Ramos (if they were and Smith dealt him for a reliever, then I’m completely baffled at the logic). And maybe that $500K gives the Twins some flexibility in terms of taking on more of the next trade target’s salary and thus not having to part with as much talent in the deal? I dunno. Just spitballing here.

So I’m holding off on passing judgment… for now. If it turns out this is it… and the Twins spent arguably their top trade chip for a relief pitcher, then that’s going to be tough for me to swallow. I was all for trading Ramos, but it just seems like that’s not a fair return, given Capps’ contract situation (he’s going to start getting very expensive the next year or two… probably too expensive for the Twins to keep). But after the series of deals Bill Smith made in August last year that, despite not all being widely popular at the time, turned out very well for the Twins, I’m going to sit back and hope this is all part of a larger plan to strengthen more than one area of the roster and prepare the Twins for a playoff run. – JC

6 thoughts on “Let’s Not Rush to Judge “the Trade”

  1. One additional issue I intended to mention in the post but forgot to include… Matt Capps is coming over from the National League. While “conventional wisdom” says pitchers will perform poorer in the AL because NL pitchers face pitchers trying to pretend to be hitters occasionally, I tend to think in a case like this, it works to Capps’ (and the Twins’) advantage.

    First, closers rarely face pitchers at the plate. If it’s close and late, the opposition is pinch hitting for their pitchers by then, so that argument goes out the door. Second, this gives the Twins a closer that their AL opponents have not seen all year… if ever. The Tigers and BitchSox have seen Guerrier and Crain a ton and they’ve now seen Rauch enough to know what to expect, as well. Capps has more heat than Rauch and has the advantage that comes with a lack of familiarity by the opposing hitters.

    Of course, using that theory, even if Capps delivers the Twins an AL pennant, when the Twins get around to facing the Phillies in the World Series, Gardy should throw Rauch, Crain or Guerrier in there to close out those games. Anyone want to place a bet on THAT happening? :)

  2. I do like that Capps isn’t a rental. He’s still arbitration-eligible next year. I figure we’re all hoping to have our own all-star closer back next year and back to top form, but this is insurance if that doesn’t happen smoothly, and a nice trading chip for next year if it does. Kind of makes Ramos the gift that keeps on giving.

  3. Fair enough. And much too rational for the blog-o-sphere, JC. I like the extra year as well, lisatwink. Gut feeling is that Nathan won’t be back next year — or perhaps ever — as an elite closer.

  4. One more thought. As I read the vehement opposition to this trade elsewhere, I can only ask myself — “If these guys are right, is Bill Smith really this reactionary and/or this stupid?” Since I think that the answer to that questions is probably “no”, I have to think: a) that there is more going on here than we see; and/or b) there was more going on with Ramos than we saw. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out.

  5. I’m sort of with you, JB (but then we Iowans have to stick together). Bill Smith is not a bonehead, despite what many of my fellow blogheads seem to think right now. If he made this deal, there was a rational reason behind it.

    My feelings back in Spring Training (when there were discussions about trading high prospects for Heath Bell) were that you simply do NOT trade blue chips for relief pitchers. My instinct is still along those lines, but at the same time, I also feel strongly that this season may well be the Twins’ best opportunity for a serious Championship run and Smith needs to make that happen, even if it means “spending” some good prospects. Since those two philosophies of mine are somewhat in conflict in this case, I’m struggling.

  6. I am fine with the move. Its not like Ramos was going to see regular playing time with Minnesota with Mauer there for another 9 years. Could they have gotten more? perhaps. But Billy Smith did something that Terry Ryan never seemed to do. Trade away a prospect to get somebody. To get a good body, you got to give something up. Ramos was it.

    Reading a Nats fan board, they loved the move (obviously), but the general feeling was the Capps was a good guy, good clubhouse guy, and stabilized their bullpen. Thats gotta count for something I suppose