Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Matt Capps' All-Star season may have landed the Nats a long-term catching answer.
Capps' value to the Nats, though, made his trade value even higher, which is why Mike Rizzo had no choice but to pull the trigger tonight when the Twins offered up Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa in exchange for his closer (plus $500,000 in cash).
Think about it this way: Seven months ago, Capps wasn't valued enough by the Pirates to be tendered a contract. Tonight, Minnesota GM Bill Smith valued Capps so much, he was willing to give up one of the top-rated young catchers in baseball.
Now, it should be noted Ramos' value with the Twins was minimal, considering they already own the best catcher in baseball. He was never going to crack the lineup at Target Field, not with Joe Mauer entrenched there for the next eight years.
But it should also be noted that Ramos was coveted by plenty of other clubs around the sport. When the Twins made a serious run at acquiring Cliff Lee earlier this month, Ramos was part of the proposed deal. He's not some throw-in or low-level minor-leaguer. He's the guy who most likely will supplant Ivan Rodriguez as the Nationals' everyday catcher, perhaps sometime next season.
Ramos, who turns 23 next month, is regarded as a strong defensive catcher who has also flashed a potent bat in the minors (he hit .317 last year at Class AA, though his average at Class AAA this year is only .241). He'll report to Syracuse for now, but the hunch here is that Ramos comes to D.C. as a September call-up. Next season, he splits the job with Pudge, eventually taking over as the starter.
In other words, Ramos is Jesus Flores circa 2008. (And by the way, if this deal doesn't confirm the Nationals have no faith Flores will ever return from his shoulder injury, nothing will.)
Isn't it worth giving up Matt Capps for that? You better believe it.
Capps will forever hold a special place in Nationals lore, both for the manner he performed on the field and for the manner in which he conducted himself off it. If there's a more genuine player in baseball, I haven't met him. Matt endured through a horrific 2009, punctuated by his father's death in October, and you can tell family is always first and foremost on his mind.
That he could recover emotionally from both the loss of his best friend and the sting of getting dumped by the only organization he had ever pitched for, then resurrect his career and earn his first All-Star berth speaks volumes about his character.
It takes a special breed to close in the big leagues. You have to have the stuff to get the game's best hitters out, but you also have to have nerves of steel to do it with the game on the line. Some simply don't have what it takes (see: Hanrahan, Joel). Whatever it is, Capps has it.
So why trade away a valuable commodity like that? Because contending clubs value closers even more this time of the year, and because the Nationals have the bullpen depth to overcome Capps' departure.
The Twins desperately needed a reliable closer for the rest of the season. Joe Nathan blew out his elbow in spring training. Jon Rauch (remember him?) tried his best to hold down the fort in Nathan's absence but has struggled in recent weeks with a role he's never quite been made for.
Thus, Minnesota's desperation played right into Rizzo's hand. Rizzo has insisted all month the asking price would be high for his three most-coveted players: Capps, Adam Dunn and Josh Willingham. He wasn't lying. He stuck to his guns and got a significant return for Capps.
And the Nationals still have a deep and talented bullpen, led by Storen, who will be this team's closer ... someday soon, but not yet. Jim Riggleman said tonight he plans to spread around save opportunities to several relievers, including Storen, Clippard, Burnett and Joel Peralta, playing the "hot hand" the rest of the way.
Nothing wrong with that. No sense thrusting Storen into the fire right away when there's no immediate need to do that. Let him ease his way into the job, perhaps taking over full-time ninth-inning duties next April.
There could come a day in the not-too-distant future when Storen is on the mound in the ninth-inning of a one-run game in the middle of a pennant race. Ramos could be behind the plate calling pitches. Stephen Strasburg could be in the dugout, rooting for Storen to secure the win after pitching eight innings himself.
When that day comes, take a quick moment to remember Matt Capps. If not for the job he did this season, it might not have been possible.
Capps won't be a member of the Nationals when they do find themselves in a pennant race, but he will have played a vital role in the franchise's transition from afterthought to contender.
In the end, that was his true value to the Nationals. And you can't thank him enough for it.