After suggesting the Twins look into trading Denard Span this summer because his power has largely disappeared, Span naturally got hot this weekend and saw his slugging percentage rise from .359 when the week began to .408 before Monday's game. Span's now hitting .307/.364/.408, and if he can match that line for the remainder of the season trading him would likely be a huge mistake, despite what I wrote on Monday. If the Twins do indeed decide to move Span, and the Nationals come calling again, the Twins need to be sure not to get fleeced by them again.
Two seasons ago, Joe Nathan went down in Spring Training and the Twins were forced to find a closer from within their organization. They chose Jon Rauch, and from opening day until July 30, Rauch was 21/25 on save attempts with a 3.05 ERA. Now, Rauch didn't fit the closer mold, as he no longer had elite stuff, but he was clearly getting the job done. However, since the Twins organization has long valued scouting over stats* it wasn't surprising to find out that they were looking for closer help at the deadline.
*In recent years the Twins have began hiring front office executives with advanced stats backgrounds, which is a good thing. No matter how much people want to insist they can see things stats don't show, the truth is stats are far more accurate than the human eye. It's not surprising that the Twins were one of the last teams to join the advanced stats craze, and they're one of the league's worst teams at the moment. You simply can't evaluate players as well without advanced stats.
Unfortunately, the Twins decided on Nationals closer Matt Capps to replace Jon Rauch. On July 30, the Twins announced that they had traded one of their top prospects, major league ready catcher Wilson Ramos, along with a minor league reliever, for Matt Capps. The early reaction from even common Twins fans wasn't a good one, and that instant reaction was backed up by local and national baseball analysts. What were the Twins doing?
Matt Capps was available as a free agent the prior off-season, and he wasn't considered an elite reliever. The Pirates had non-tendered him, and prior to signing with Washington in 2010 Capps had a career 3.61 ERA since debuting in 2005. In comparison, from 2005-2009, Rauch posted a 3.65 ERA. Both players were used as setup men at times, which screws up their save percentage, but Capps had 67 saves while Rauch had 59 over that time frame.
Capps was certainly slightly better, but the upgrade wasn't worth giving up any kind of prospect in my opinion, let alone a major-league ready catching prospect like Wilson Ramos.
And despite Capps being very good in 2010, he's been considerably worse in 2011 and 2012, making the Ramos-Capps trade just another mistake by the Twins front office. After posting an ERA of 2.00 and going 16/18 on save opportunities in 2010, Capps was just 15/24 on saves in 2011 while posting an ERA of 4.25. So far this season, his ERA is 4.00 and he's 9/10 on saves, after blowing his first save of the season on Sunday against Detroit.
Based on WAR, which calulates Wins Above Replacement, Matt Capps was worth -1.4 wins in 2011 and has been worth 0.0 wins this season. Relievers WAR numbers are generally lower than position players or starters, because their workloads are much less. Capps throwing 60 innings in a season is far less valuable than a catcher playing 135 games a season at an above-average level. When you add in the fact that the Twins could have signed almost any free agent reliever to match Capps production over the last two years, it makes the trade look like even more of a laughingstock.
Ramos played in 113 games in 2011 for Washington, hitting .267/.334/.445. Fan Graphs pegged Ramos WAR at 3.3, which means Ramos was worth about 5 more wins than Matt Capps in 2011. Ramos also made the league minimum while Capps made over $7MM.
This season, Ramos was hitting .265/.354/.398 in 25 games before he tore his ACL. Ramos only played in 25 games, yet his WAR is 0.7. Not a great number by any means, but considering Capps is at 0.0 this season, Ramos has been better.
The Twins undoubtedly would say they didn't have a spot for Ramos because they signed Joe Mauer to his mammoth extension with the expectation being he'd be able to stay at catcher. Whether Mauer can stay there or not, the simple fact is had the Twins decided to keep Ramos and just let Jon Rauch close games in 2010, moving Mauer to a new position wouldn't be such a big deal anymore. If the team had a productive, young catcher waiting in the wings, Joe Mauer could've filled a huge hole at third base. But instead, the team will have no catcher, no third baseman and no closer when Mauer moves to first base permanently in 2014. Hopefully the organization can make some good decisions between now and then, or we could be watching a team as bad as the mid-90's Twins for the next handful of seasons.