Pirates eye Gregg, Dotel, as Capps picks Nats
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Matt Capps, the Pirates' recently released closer, formally is gone, but the team is engaged in talks with two possible replacements in free agents Kevin Gregg and Octavio Dotel.
Early this morning, Capps agreed to terms with Washington on a one-year contract worth $3.5 million, choosing the Nationals over the Chicago Cubs and New York Mets, the latter a late entry to the process. Capps also can make $425,000 in performance bonuses based on games finished.
The Pirates essentially conceded earlier in the week that Capps would not take their last, best offer to him as a free agent -- close to $3 million -- and said they would shift full focus to finding late-inning bullpen help for Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek.
The team has had several sets of talks regarding Gregg and Dotel, two of the highest-profile closers left in free agency, including some that continued into this week.
Gregg, 31, had a 4.72 ERA in 72 appearances for the Cubs this past season and lost his closer's job to Carlos Marmol after blowing seven saves in 30 opportunities. Before that, though, Gregg spent two years as a mostly effective closer for the Florida Marlins, and his career numbers are a 4.10 ERA and 85 saves in 107 opportunities.
Dotel, 36, has not closed since early 2007, but he was a reliable arm for the Chicago White Sox the past two seasons, posting ERAs of 3.76 and 3.32 over 132 appearances. He also maintained quality a strikeout rate in that span -- 10.83 per nine innings -- that indicates he has fended off decline. His career numbers: 3.73 ERA and 83 saves in 122 opportunities.
The highest-profile closers left in free agency are Jose Valverde and Fernando Rodney, and they are out of the Pirates' desired price range.
Gregg made $4.2 million last season, Dotel $6 million, and each is expected to get less for 2010. Each also might be influenced by the lure of a chance at being a closer, as few such jobs remain available in Major League Baseball.
The Pirates apparently would not be interested in signing both.
A report by NBC Sports yesterday said the Pirates had made an offer to Dotel of $3 million plus performance bonuses, but that was emphatically rejected by a source directly involved in the talks.
It might not be known for years how the Pirates fared in deciding to release Capps, but this much is evident now: The Nationals paid more than the Pirates were willing, and the Mets' offer, according to agent Paul Kinzer's word with reporters after the agreement, was comparable. The Cubs, too, are believed to have exceeded the Pirates' figure.
Thus, the market did exceed the internal value the Pirates placed on Capps, though it remains to be seen if the market was justified.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this scene was the decision to release Capps rather than trade him, and that, too, might be called into question given that Capps ended up with more money and that no fewer than 15 other teams expressed interest while he was a free agent.
To recap: The Pirates declined to tender Capps a contract through salary arbitration at the Dec. 12 deadline. Capps made $2,425,000 this past season while posting a 5.80 ERA, blowing five saves and losing eight games, and the team did not want to risk an arbitration award favorable to the player.
Management has further explained its reasoning this way, based on multiple accounts in recent weeks:
• Trade talks regarding Capps, even while baseball still was being played, were yielding no significant offers for Capps, not even a return approaching the two modest prospects -- light-hitting shortstop Argenis Diaz and Class A pitcher Hunter Strickland -- acquired in the Adam LaRoche deal, the Pirates' most visible moving of a contract all summer. Thus, a decision was made to try to keep Capps but to do so while avoiding arbitration.
• The failure to reach an agreement with Capps before the non-tender deadline would put the parties on an inevitable collision course for a hearing, as the Pirates did not see an amicable settlement occurring. Given that, in the Pirates' view, closers can receive awards higher than the team's perceived value of that role, that was a risk they did not want to take.
• General manager Neal Huntington cited a Post-Gazette report that the Pirates had threatened Capps with a non-tender, five days before that deadline, as quashing what little trade value Capps had left.
• The team saw its final offer to Capps as competitive and, until this week, had sounded genuinely confident there was a chance it could be accepted. Capps stayed open-minded about the Pirates, not dismissing them until the day or so before agreeing with Washington.
NOTES -- The Pirates signed left-handed reliever Jack Taschner to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Taschner, 31, would make $835,000 for time spent in the majors, plus as much as $465,000 in performance bonuses based on appearances. In 24 appearances with the Philadelphia Phillies this past season, he had a 4.91 ERA, 19 strikeouts, 20 walks and a .317 opponents' batting average. In 202 major league appearances over the past five seasons, he has a 5.00 ERA. ... The Pirates' total of non-roster invitees now is at six. ... Washington management told Capps he will have to compete for the closer's job with Brian Bruney.
First Published December 24, 2009 12:00 am