We're having a real dilemma here. We can't tell if the vast majority of the Twin Cities sporting public has lost its ability to objectively evaluate Matt Capps, if the same phenomenon is happening to the Twins' decision-makers, or if it's a little bit of both. Here is what we apparently do know: The Twins are seriously interested in re-signing Capps, and fans are interested in the Twins seriously reconsidering.
So in an attempt to find some middle ground, let us briefly evaluate the things that are poisoning the water on both sides.
*Capps is a symbol of two very touchy things: 1) The Wilson Ramos trade, which looked increasingly bad in 2011 when Joe Mauer couldn't stay healthy and Ramos showed he could have a long career in the majors. 2) Capps, thanks to some well-placed and spectacular blown saves, became a symbol for all that went wrong in 2011. After Mauer, he might have been the No. 1 scapegoat. That picture to your right? That was a rare sight on multiple levels.
FRONT OFFICE/FIELD STAFF
*Capps is a symbol of two very dangerous things: 1) Despite his lackluster-to-awful performance in 2011, the Twins continue to like his toughness, willingness to pitch, accountability, etc. Those are admirable traits, but they only go so far when there are runners on the corners with one out in the 9th. 2) He is a symbol of continuity. As much as the Twins need change, they are a very loyal bunch. After the Twins lost so many bullpen arms after 2010 and having it blow up in their faces, the hunch is they look at Capps as a potentially reasonably priced option who fits their system and could provide stability in a world of chaos.
The objective view of Capps falls somewhere in the middle and can be helped by looking at the numbers. On his conference call with fans last night, Terry Ryan said the organization believes Capps had a down year in 2011 and will bounce back. The strange truth is that some of Capps' numbers weren't all that bad in 2011 -- at least relative to his career. His WHIP of 1.203 was right around his career mark (1.197) and was actually better than his All-Star season of 2010 (1.260). Even his ERA of 4.25 doesn't sound as bad as we might remember him on the mound -- and was actually lower than the Twins' bloated team bullpen ERA of 4.51, the worst in the AL (not to mention lower than Joe Nathan's 4.84). Of course, Capps' strikeout rate was way down (4.7 per 9 innings when he's normally around 7/9) and his home run rate of 1.4 per 9 innings was higher than expected.
At age 28, Capps should be in his prime. If he has an "average" year for what figures to be an "average" team, one could reasonably expect a WHIP of 1.20, an ERA of 3.25 and hopefully more strikeouts and a few fewer home runs allowed than last year. As a closer who is more a classic Twins pitch-to-contact guy than a blow-them-away guy, Capps would undoubtedly benefit from the fielding upgrades Ryan covets. Whether he -- or any closer -- is worth putting another dent in the 2012 payroll is another question worthy of debate.
But If Capps is brought back, let's hope it's on more than a front office hunch -- and let's also be prepared to wipe the slate clean for 2012.