In the wake of the Twins' quick exit from the playoffs last year, as I prepared myself for the offseason by looking through the team's financial particulars, I came to one clear conclusion: "The Twins would be insane to bring back Matt Capps."
In my blog post discussing the subject, I surmised that the Twins and arbitrators would overemphasize the value of Capps' saves, comparing him to other closers with similar totals. I concluded that "it's not hard to imagine Capps at least doubling his $3.5 million salary in 2011."
Of course, there was little doubt that the Twins would be bringing back Capps. They obviously overvalue the heck out of him, otherwise they wouldn't have traded away a top prospect to have him come in and close when they already had a guy who was adequately handling the job.
So I wasn't at all surprised when I heard that the Twins had tendered Capps a contract at the early-December deadline. The decision created a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach that kept growing and growing until the inevitable news came through yesterday: the Twins and the arbitration-eligible Capps have agreed on a one-year, $7.15 million deal.
In justifying the move on ESPN 1500 yesterday afternoon, after Phil Mackey astutely pointed out that the team could have kept two of its other departed relievers by not tendering Capps a contract, general manager Bill Smith said that the Twins want a good closing option should Joe Nathan be unable to fill the role. As if Capps -- who was non-tendered by the Pirates following a terrible campaign just a year ago -- is all that different of a pitcher from Jesse Crain ($4M next year), or Jon Rauch ($3.5M).
The Twins are talking out of both sides of their mouths with regards to Nathan. On the one hand they claim that they're very optimistic about his recovery, to the point where they apparently won't carry any trustworthy setup men other than Capps and Mijares. On the other hand, they're spending over $7 million on insurance at the closer position, where they've already got $11.25 million invested in what has been illuminated as a mistake of a contract. (I was on board with that extension myself at the time, but let's face it, losing Nathan had virtually no effect on the team's outcome last year.)
Meanwhile they refuse to spend $5.8 million -- the amount in J.J. Hardy's new one-year deal with the Orioles -- on insurance at shortstop. Even if you don't think Hardy should start, he's a drastically better backup plan than anything they have and it seems at least as risky to count on the perpetually underachieving Alexi Casilla to be a competent starting shortstop as it does to count on Nathan to close.
In what world is closer a more valuable and irreplaceable position than starting shortstop? And how would the Twins not be more aware of this than anyone? They've cycled through bad shortstops faster than the Vikings go through quarterbacks over the past decade but they've had no trouble turning solid setup men like Eddie Guardado and Nathan into All-Star closers.
What's that saying about insanity and trying the same thing over and over again while expecting different results?