Last Thursday the Cleveland Indians signed oft-injured reliever Matt Capps to a Minor League contract and invited him to Spring Training with the big league club. The Tribe’s pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 10. Little has been said about this deal, however it could be a “look-see” that predicates another move.
On the surface, Capps is just another reliever brought in to fix the worst bullpen in the American League in 2012. New Manager Terry Francona knows for the club to have any success in 2013, the bullpen must be repaired. Capps now joins a crowded field of candidates for a handful of available relief roles.
Francona and GM Chris Antonetti’s plan is bring in as many relievers as possible, then take the best 6-7 into opening day and stockpile Columbus and Akron with the rest just in case. It’s a plan many use, but in reality one could think this could pave the way for a Chris Perez trade sometime before the deadline in July.
Capps is 29 with a tremendous amount of late-inning experience. Still, he is a walking arm injury. Coming off an injury-shortened season with Minnesota, Capps pitched in only 30 games and posted a 3.68 ERA with 14 saves, 18 strikeouts and four walks in 29 1/3 innings. Most of that activity was prior to the all star break. Afterwards there were two trips to the disabled list because of a right rotator cuff injury.
Over parts of eight seasons, Capps has posted a 3.52 ERA with 138 saves in 444 appearances between tours with the Pirates, Nationals and Twins. His best season came in 2010, when he posted a 2.47 ERA and saved 42 games in 74 combined outings for Washington and Minnesota.
This is a gamble by the Tribe, however not the size of the Grady Sizemore contract last year. With Capps they are out only if he cannot pitch any longer. If he makes the majors this deal could go down as a steal, and one that could set up the team for years to come.
If Capps can return from his arm troubles, he could conceivably move into the closer role and allow Perez to be moved to another contender. That idea might not be that far fetched.
Perez was a thorn to the front office last year. His tirades about fans and lack of moves by the club are legendary. Perez’ saves went down as the year progressed, as did his focus. Yes the club didn’t have many save opportunities, but even when they did Perez had a tough time. Finally finishing with 39 saves, 4th best in the AL.
Last year Perez brought in a salary of $4.5 million, that increased to $7.5 mill for the 2013 season as both sides came to an agreement before arbitration. For the Indians to pay that amount, Perez will have to produce and be on his best behavior. Last year Perez was quoted as saying his troubles “left the clubhouse” after Manny Acta was fired.
Yet his explosions were noteworthy and distracting, even to a team that limped to a fourth place finish in the AL Central.
In May, after the team has won five of six and Perez had saved another game, he ripped into the fans and their booing of him.
“It doesn’t bother me, it pisses me off. I don’t think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can’t even give up a base runner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It pisses me off.”
Needless to say Perez had a captive audience with Antonetti the next day.
In August, with the team floundering, Perez gave a fan in Oakland a profanity-laced commentary that was caught on tape and went viral on You Tube. The last incident was in September as Perez let the front office know what he thought of them.
“It’s not just ownership,” Perez said. “They don’t make trades. It’s the GMs. It goes hand in hand. Josh Willingham would look great in this lineup. They didn’t want to pony up for that last year. That’s the decision they made, and this is the bed we’re laying in.”
Facts are, Perez was right. Everyone knew it. Fans were showing it. Antonetti, Team President Mark Shapiro and the Dolans had to make a choice. Do we commit to winning or allow this apathy of the media and fans to continue. The decision was easy. Commit and spend some money. Thus the Francona hiring.
Still Perez is a bargaining chip. Which is why the signing of Capps might carry more weight than thought. If Perez can be as dominating as he was last year I the first three months, and the team is better yet still not in contention, he could be moved.
A team like the Angels could come knocking in July. They have the most pressure of any team in baseball today. With Albert Pujols and now Josh Hamilton they are expected to run away with the West. Yet they are pinning their closer hopes on Ryan Madsen, a reliever with only one year of closing experience and only ten months from Tommy John surgery. If the Angels are struggling in July and Madsen is still recouping, it wouldn’t be hard to believe they could call the Indians to inquire about Perez. And the Tribe could demand a lot.
That’s just one club. Another might be the Yankees, or even the Dodgers or Braves. Winning is at a premium and the Indians could hold another team hostage to get the best deal. This is in now way to say Perez should be traded, but at least Cleveland is leaving their options open.
Dave Mitchell co-hosts with Mark Donahue the UST talk show “Ohio Baseball Weekly,” highlighting the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds. The Show returns on March 4th, at 9pm with a two-hour special.