When it was officially announced on Monday that the Twins had reached agreement with Matt Capps on a one-year, $4.5M deal, the reaction among fans was about as venomous as I've ever seen. My Twitter timeline lit up with angry, expletive-laden tirades. Even some of the most mild-mannered fans were directing profane vitriol toward Terry Ryan. You'd think the Twins hired Jerry Sandusky to be their ninth-inning man.
To be honest, I'm having a hard time understanding why some fans are soaked with such heavy disdain for Capps. He's a generally effective closer who had a bad run of outings during a lost season. The right-hander was certainly tough to watch at times over the summer, but in the grand scheme, he was a minor contributor to the club's woes.
In my mind, Capps has three things working against him with the Target Field Faithful, two of which are completely out of his control:
1) He's not Wilson Ramos.
Capps' career with the Twins began on a sour note, as he was acquired in a lopsided trade that was widely panned at the time and only looks worse in hindsight. This past season, while Joe Mauer's future at catcher was being cast in doubt, fans were forced to watch Capps blow nine saves while the player he was traded for, Wilson Ramos, enjoyed a successful rookie campaign in Washington.
There's no doubt that the Twins would be in better shape right now had that trade never happened, but it did. At this point it should have no bearing on our assessment of Capps.
2) He's not Joe Nathan.
Ryan did such a phenomenal job in identifying and acquiring Nathan that it seems he actually set the bar way too high for himself. In six seasons with the Twins before suffering a torn elbow ligament, Nathan was never off. Even at his worst, he was still one of the league's most dominant and reliable relief arms. There's a reason why many regarded him as the best closer in the game outside of Mariano Rivera during that span.
Capps is certainly a far cry from that level of excellence, but this doesn't mean he's bad. Like the vast majority of relievers in the major leagues, he's susceptible to down years, and he had one in 2011. More often than not, though, he's been perfectly adequate as a late-inning bullpen weapon. At 28, he's still in the heart of his prime.
One other thing: In spite of all his struggles this year, Capps had the second-best qualified WHIP on the team behind Scott Baker, allowing fewer base runners on average than Glen Perkins.
3) He pitched through an injury this year.
In radio and print interviews, Twins' coaches and front-office personnel have clearly been going out of their way this offseason to convince people that Capps' struggles were largely the result of a right wrist injury he was pitching through.
As I wrote a couple weeks ago, a close look at the numbers indicates that these claims are valid. At no point in Capps' career has he had nearly as much trouble striking people out; if he's healthy again in 2012 I suspect we'll see a return to normalcy in K-rate, which would almost surely result in improved numbers across the board.
I don't necessarily think Capps was doing the Twins any favors by pitching through his wrist tendinitis this year, but isn't it exactly the kind of thing most fans wanted to see more of? Sure, Capps was garbage when he took the mound for a period of time, but at least he was out there pitching.
On top of that, he took accountability for his failures, telling reporters "I'd boo me too" when the hometown fans turned against him.
To me, Capps' bum rap seems almost totally unwarranted. I don't love his new contract -- $4.5 million is on the very upper end of what I'd be willing to pay him and the club forfeited an extra draft pick by re-signing him -- but there's really no such thing as a bad one-year deal and locking him in at a reasonable enough rate shores up the back end of the bullpen while enabling Ryan to turn his attention elsewhere.