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Fernando Rodney and Matt Capps

Two closers came off the market last week, as the Angels added Fernando Rodney and the Nationals picked up Matt Capps. The Angels won’t look to use Rodney as a closer, but he will provide insurance to Brian Fuentes in the back end of their bullpen. Capps is the most likely candidate for the Nationals’ closer role, vacated by Mike MacDougal.

Looking at career performance, it is clear that Capps is the more talented pitcher of these two. Rodney’s career ERA of 4.32 and career FIP of 4.15 are both worse than the league average for relief pitchers. Capps struggled last year, but even in spite of a 5.80 ERA in only his 4th full season, he still has a 3.61 career ERA and a 3.84 career FIP, both better than average.

Add in the roles that both these pitchers will be filling for their respective teams come this summer, and it seems to be a no-brainer that Capps would receive both the longer and more lucrative contract. Logic, however, can escape when it comes to the hot stove of the Major League Baseball offseason, and this is no exception. Rodney’s contract will give a roughly 0.5 WAR player 11 million dollars over 2 years. Meanwhile, the Nationals will only pay Capps a 3.5 million dollar base salary next year.

The problem for Capps appears to be one of exposure. Hardly anybody noticed either his 2007 or 2008 season with Pittsburgh, in which he posted sub-3.30 FIPs and even better ERAs. He never did compile saves like Rodney’s 37 last year, but in his three years with closing experience he has picked up 67 saves. It seems like the combination of no big save years, playing in Pittsburgh, and the lack of closer “stuff” – a low-mid 90s fastball as opposed to the high 90s of players like Rodney – led to Capps slipping to the Nationals.

Of course, Capps is still an injury risk and he is coming off a very poor season, which he could possibly repeat, and he still appears to have been paid on the inflated closer pay scale. However, his contract is much more reasonable. The Angels are paying for roughly 2.5 wins and will likely get only one win out of Rodney, a known commodity based on his 330 innings of poor performance. Capps is a promising player who is a rebound candidate and has shown the ability to get batters out in the 9th inning for multiple years prior, and is also arbitration-eligible for 2011. The Angels messed up, and the Nationals added a solid piece to their bullpen.