I think we can all agree that 2011 was a disastrous year for the Minnesota Twins. Their win total decreased by a whopping 31 games from the season before, as nearly everything that could go wrong did.
But it was one season, and it's in the past now. It's time to look forward. That goes for the players that suffered through disappointing campaigns as well as the folks who continue to hold it against them.
Lately, I'm seeing too many fans and bloggers basing their entire perceptions of certain players on this one horrible season, and that just seems completely misguided when the game of baseball, by nature, is so volatile on a year-to-year basis.
From one season to the next, we've seen Francisco Liriano turn from erratic mess to elite frontline starter and then back again. We've seen Delmon Young go from imposing middle-of-the-lineup slugger to utter disappointment. We've seen Glen Perkins go from being unable to get hitters out in Triple-A to blossoming as one of the best late-inning relievers in the American League.
Fortunes turn quickly in this game. Careers are marked by peaks and valleys. And there are two players in particular that I see a lot of people giving up on after dramatic drop-offs in 2011: Matt Capps and Kevin Slowey.
Fans have widely lamented the notion that Capps could return in the closer role for the Twins next year. On this week's edition of the excellent Gleeman and the Geek podcast, John Bonnes went so far as to say that he'd hate a Capps signing regardless of the terms.
There are certainly reasons not to want Capps back, not the least of which being that he'd yield a high draft pick by signing elsewhere. But his merits as a late-inning reliever should not be completely condemned based solely on his struggles over the summer, when he was dealing with a forearm strain.
I'm no huge Capps fan and clearly the Twins have overpaid dearly for his services up to this point. But one ugly, injury-plagued campaign in a season that was filled with them should not cause people to ignore his lengthy track record as an effective reliever. For his career, he owns a 3.51 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, and when he was healthy in 2010 he was a perfectly adequate ninth-inning man. There's little reason to believe he can't return to that level of productivity in 2012 if healthy, and at the right price this would make him a fine closing option for a team that doesn't necessarily expect to contend.
As for Slowey, the Twins have given indications that they plan on either non-tendering or trading the embattled righty. For the most part, the fan base seems to be fully on board with this course of action. It's true that he caused plenty of headaches this year and didn't record a single win even in his eight starts.
It's also true that Slowey won 35 games the previous three seasons (more than any Twins pitcher other than Scott Baker) and is a 27-year-old with a career 4.7 K/BB ratio who will cost only $3 million or so in 2012. With their shoddy rotation depth and limited funds, can the Twins afford to give up on such a player after one tumultuous year?
Those who follow the Twins, and especially those who are involved with the organization, have their own personal conceptions about these players – the inevitable result of prolonged up-close exposure. But when trying to make decisions for the betterment of the team, sometimes it's best to remove ourselves and make an objective assessment of how players like Capps and Slowey are likely to perform next year and beyond.
Contrary to popular belief, their future performances are not necessarily dictated by what happened in 2011. If that were universally the case, the Twins would have an impossibly tall task in front of them as they try to return to contention.