In the middle of another tight division race, the Minnesota Twins acquired All-Star closer Matt Capps from the Washington Nationals late Thursday night for prized catching prospect Wilson Ramos and minor league left-hander Joe Testa.
The Twins also received cash considerations in the deal.
“The motivation is that this makes us a better club,” said general manager Bill Smith, whose Twins trail the Chicago White Sox by 1-1/2 games in the AL Central. “This gives us more depth in the back of that bullpen. Matt Capps is an established, veteran closer who is going to give us a better chance to win our division and advance to the World Series.”
Capps is 3-3 with a 2.74 ERA and 26 saves in 30 chances this year for the struggling Nationals, who could make other moves before the non-waiver trading deadline Saturday. Slugger Adam Dunn has been mentioned in several possible deals.
He will immediately move into the closer role that was vacated when Joe Nathan had Tommy John surgery in spring training.
Jon Rauch moved from setup man to closer to fill in for Nathan and performed admirably with 21 saves in 25 opportunities. But Rauch is a pitch-to-contact thrower who does not have overpowering stuff. He was only given one save opportunity since July 11, perhaps a sign that the team’s confidence in his capabilities as a closer were eroding. Rauch has a 5.40 ERA in nine appearances this month.
Now he will slide back into a setup role that he excelled in last season after being acquired from the Diamondbacks. He will team with veteran righty Matt Guerrier to give the Twins two experienced out-makers for the eighth inning.
“Jon Rauch stepped up and has been phenomenal for us,” Smith said. “This gives us three quality, veteran guys late in the game. I can’t say enough great things about what Jon Rauch has contributed to this club and we expect him to continue to be a huge contributor to our success.”
It also shows how the Twins’ primary focus has shifted somewhat while playing in brand new Target Field. In the last few seasons, the Twins have grown more and more aggressive to build a veteran team that is capable of making a deep playoff run.
They brought in Carl Pavano, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and Rauch last year, three moves that helped the team win its fifth division title of the decade.
But the Twins have only advanced out of the first round in one of those five trips to the postseason, and it’s clear there is a sense of urgency now.
This year they added veterans Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy and Jim Thome in the offseason to push their payroll near $100 million and now have shipped out one of the top catching prospects in all of baseball to bring in a closer, which is a position that is considered much easier to find production.
Twins manager Ron Gardenhire lobbied hard for Ramos to make the team out of spring training after he hit .400 and also impressed with his defensive abilities.
But the Twins, of course, have MVP Joe Mauer entrenched in the catcher spot. Mauer signed an eight-year, $184 million extension in the spring, and Ramos knew his days with the Twins could be coming to an end.
Smith wanted the 22-year-old Venezuelan, who only had 54 career at-bats in Double-A, to get more plate appearances in the minors. He hit .241 with five homers and 30 RBIs for Triple-A Rochester this season.
In his one call-up in May, Ramos went 7 for 9 with three doubles in his first two games before cooling off. He went 1 for his last 18 in the seven-game stint.
“He’s a tremendous talent and he’s got a bright future,” Smith said. “Anytime you’re going to get an All-Star closer, you have to give up a good player. It was a tough decision, but one we felt we had to make.”
The addition of Ramos to a talented young core led by ace Stephen Strasburg gives the Nationals the flexibility to move slugging catcher Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft, into the outfield.