Red Sox Pull Capuano from Cautious Market

When Ryan Dempster walked away, it was pretty clear what the Red Sox needed to do. Though Dempster’s salary was too high, the pitcher served an important function as swingman and rotation depth. So it was up to the Red Sox to find a replacement, and the most obvious replacement on the market was Chris Capuano. Capuano was both a starter and a reliever just last year, and with Boston, he could compete with Felix Doubront for the fifth rotation slot in camp. In short, it’s not a surprise at all that, Thursday, Capuano and the Red Sox agreed to terms, pending a physical.

What’s more of a surprise are the terms themselves. Capuano signed for one year, despite having looked for two earlier in the offseason. And his guaranteed base salary is just $2.25 million, with incentives that could push the deal up to a maximum of $5 million. Granted, there might’ve been a discount because the Red Sox just won the World Series. Granted, there might’ve been a discount because Capuano grew up in Massachusetts. But if there were substantially bigger offers out there, it stands to reason Capuano would’ve taken one of those, so it’s curious that he was available so cheap.

We’ve talked up Capuano as a bargain for so long it’s possible the wrong impression has been conveyed. No one has ever suggested that Capuano is going to be an excellent pitcher. Rather, it seems like he should be solid, yet a market never really materialized, ending up with him signing for a fraction of Willie Bloomquist‘s guarantee in the middle of February. Capuano’s never been about major upside. He just seemed and seems like a rare free agent who could offer some surplus value.

One of the stranger things: two years ago, Capuano signed for a guaranteed two years and $10 million. He was younger, but he was also less removed from his most recent Tommy John surgery, and in 2011 he’d been a more or less league-average starter. His new maximum is half of that contract, despite some market inflation, and despite Capuano having been reasonably effective for two years in Los Angeles. Though he’s now in his mid-30s, there’s no sign of decline in his repertoire. He’s coming off a very Capuano-like contact rate.

To me, it seems like the market has grown increasingly cautious about pitchers with arm-injury histories. It’s the best explanation I can come up with for why Capuano signed with the Red Sox at the cost of a utility infielder. Again, even a durable Capuano wouldn’t have signed a huge deal, but this could be at least in part a response to his pair of elbow surgeries. He’s also had shoulder surgery, and though none of this has happened since his last free-agent contract, philosophies around the marketplace might’ve changed.

Masahiro Tanaka, of course, got the biggest contract, and he hasn’t been hurt yet. Ricky Nolasco and Jason Vargas got four years, having been reliable types. Ubaldo Jimenez and Matt Garza got almost identical terms, but Garza’s been the more consistent performer, Jimenez had a draft pick attached, and Garza’s deal includes a cheap year of injury protection. Tim Lincecum got a lot of money despite his inconsistency, and he’s had great health. The reliable Scott Feldman got three years. Phil Hughes got three years. Bronson Arroyo and Tim Hudson got bigger guarantees than Scott Kazmir despite being much much older.

Meanwhile, Capuano signed for very little. Ervin Santana is still available, and though we don’t know what he’ll ultimately sign for, there’s talk teams are worried about his elbow. Paul Maholm was given an even lower base than Capuano. Dan Haren had a shoulder problem, and he got one year. Josh Johnson got one year, although that much was expected. Jason Hammel got one cheap year. Going international, Suk-min Yoon signed for a cheap three years in large part because he’s coming off a shoulder issue. Previously, he was one of the best prospects in Korea. Scott Baker was given a minor-league contract. Shaun Marcum was given a minor-league contract. Erik Bedard was given a minor-league contract.

There are, of course, always a million factors. Bruce Chen has been healthier than Capuano, and the last three years, he’s posted a better ERA and a similar FIP. He’ll make just $3.25 million this season. But he’s a year older, and his xFIP has been much worse, and he seems to have the inferior raw stuff. Also, it’s a comparison of two contracts given by two teams. The Chen contract shows the Capuano contract isn’t outrageously cheap, but as Dave pointed out on Twitter, Capuano has a smaller 2014 guarantee than Edinson Volquez. It still seems like a good deal for a fifth/sixth starter who could come in handy in a variety of roles.

A market aversion to injury-proneness is almost impossible to measure, meaning changes in that aversion are also almost impossible to measure. You’d expect that pitchers with injury histories would sign for some percentage less than others, because durability is, in part, a skill. A pitcher who’s been hurt is a pitcher who’s more likely to get hurt. There are essentially two questions: (1) Is the market more cautious now than it used to be? (2) Is the market now too cautious? It seems, from here, like the market might’ve been a bit too afraid of Chris Capuano, and the Red Sox just took advantage of that. I’m open to being wrong, since teams know more about injuries than I do, but they don’t know that much, and they sure do hate to see salary on the DL.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Caveman Jones
Member
Caveman Jones
2 years 6 months ago

I’ve seen a few non-Boston writers say that Doubront would have been in a camp battle for the 5th spot with Dempster, and now Capuano, but unless Felix gets hurt he is definitely in the starting rotation. I imagine that Dempster was told this early on and it influenced his decision to retire.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 6 months ago

Both Dempster and Doubront have had 2nd half fade problems, splitting the innings from the 5th spot may have been a good idea. Not happening now obviously. Buchholz is hardly a sure thing either with that shoulder, and Lackey, Peavy, who knows at their age. Kind of bugs me that folks look at Dempster as a good thing. Sure he was overpaid but the Red Sox spend under 45% of revenue on payroll, they can afford it, and now JWH is saying being under 189 does not give him the benefits he expected (meaning revenue sharing rebates I guess).

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 6 months ago

Overall numbers reflect “second-half fades”, so all you’re really saying is that they would have been fantastic if not for a fade. It’s such a tedious thing to suggest is meaningful.

“Who knows at their age”. Wow, what a profound analysis. What are you even doing?

Atreyu Jones
Guest
Atreyu Jones
2 years 6 months ago

“One of the stranger things: two years ago, Capuano signed for a guaranteed two years and $10 million. He was younger, but he was also less removed from his most recent Tommy John surgery, and in 2011 he’d been a more or less league-average starter. His new maximum is half of that contract”

Yes, but it’s also half as many years. That doesn’t seem so strange.

Jonathan Aicardi
Guest
Jonathan Aicardi
2 years 6 months ago

The point Jeff is making is that he got half the guaranteed money despite positive performance, further removal from injury AND within a market that has seen free agents receiving the dividends of rapid inflation. Scott Feldman, for example, received 3 years, $30M despite being a largely similar to Capuano. It doesn’t quite fit the trend.

shthar
Guest
shthar
2 years 6 months ago

It was positive only if you compare to the rest of the chumps that haven’t signed.

Catoblepas
Guest
Catoblepas
2 years 6 months ago

I think you also have to remember that teams usually have to pay more for shorter-term contracts. Players like security, so if they don’t get that they need more money as a result. So 5mil/1yr really is equivalent to something like 8mil/2yrs, or at least less than 10mil.

That Guy
Guest
That Guy
2 years 6 months ago

So, he signs a 2/10 deal and then he signs a 1/2.25 and this makes sense according to your narrative?

Rauce
Guest
Rauce
2 years 6 months ago

The Chen deal is for $3M this year, but it has a 2nd year option with a $1.25M buyout.

ralph
Guest
ralph
2 years 6 months ago

For a contrasting viewpoint, Keith Law is not a fan of the signing because he doesn’t think it’s a good fit for the AL East, as he says in these tweets:

https://twitter.com/keithlaw/status/436592559054655488

https://twitter.com/keithlaw/status/436592951402438656

https://twitter.com/keithlaw/status/436615415746560001

Blount
Guest
Blount
2 years 6 months ago

The numbers Law cherrypicked for this one are really surprising.

redsox1
Member
redsox1
2 years 6 months ago

In a market that’s averaging ~$6M/WAR, I don’t understand how anybody could reasonably be critical of signing Capuano at 1-yr / $2.25M, no matter what division he plays in.

Catoblepas
Guest
Catoblepas
2 years 6 months ago

Or signing anything that could possibly play any position with literally any ability for only 2.25mil guaranteed. The bar to clear to make this a net gain is so low.

MagMike
Guest
MagMike
2 years 6 months ago

I’d expect the Red Sox to go after more than just a 0 to 1 WAR pitcher. This entire winter has been underwhelming for them. The money side of this makes it sound like the they care more about the money, than actually winning. They could have easily used that Dempster money to sign a bigger name, like AJ Burnett.

Campbrice
Guest
Campbrice
2 years 6 months ago

You mean waste money on a FA market that had nothing they really needed. A better use of that money will be come trade deadline when they can take on a large expiring contract for nothing. The Sox are playing this very smart. They have a deep farm and now financial resources to make a serious contender move come deadline

RedSox
Guest
RedSox
2 years 6 months ago

The downside of having a big payroll is the temptation to pay market prices for talent at the big league level while having a strong farm system. The Sox are smart in leaving intentional ‘gaps’ in their major league roster so they can see what they’ve got. Most powerhouse teams have been built on the backs of homegrown players.

Many people forget that last year was supposed to be the bridge year to all the young talent coming up. This year IS the other end of that bridge year. They are reserving their money to resign homegrown talent (hopefully with a hometown discount) who have proven success in this market. They’ve been bitten too many times in the FA market, where market prices typically dictate that you have either market performance or downside.

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 6 months ago

“The team that won the world series didn’t change much and projects to be one of the league’s best this year. They’re screwed.”

elguapo
Member
elguapo
2 years 6 months ago

I agree. I doubt they expect him to be anything more than veteran depth if Doubront, Workman, or one of their other young pitchers can’t succeed in the 5th spot. If he gives them more – bonus, if he gives them less, they can afford to release him.

Anon21
Guest
Anon21
2 years 6 months ago

Last year, Capuano was on DL twice and was day to day most of September. He had leg, shoulder, and groin problems. This dude is a mess.

MagMike
Guest
MagMike
2 years 6 months ago

Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. The Green Monster doesn’t help soft tossing lefties.

Alex Anthopoulos
Guest
Alex Anthopoulos
2 years 6 months ago

It’s okay, we have plenty of good starting pitchers already on our roster.

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
2 years 6 months ago

Jeez, I’m thinking Barry Zito is availible?? no bites??

larry
Guest
larry
2 years 6 months ago

Are teams calling pitchers up earlier because a better understanding of injuries?ie all pitchers are basically ticking time bombs? more young cost controlled pitchers mean less teams need capuano type players

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 6 months ago

They may realize that that they can’t prevent injuries, so they may as well get the best a young pitcher has to offer rather than waiting for him to get struck down in the minors.

Problem is, even league average starters are in short demand since 40% of SP’ers end up on the DL each year. Only about 3/5 of a teams opening day starting rotation reaches the qualified inning threshold.

Ducky
Guest
Ducky
2 years 6 months ago

The intended brilliance of a Capuano type is they can leave perhaps one more position player on the farm a little longer. Webster, Ranaudo, Barnes all look like at least serviceable back end of the rotation, bullpen arms if not more. The less of the they have to call up in the first half of the season, the more of them will be available for an extra year of service time or possibly missing the super two cutoff. That’s a pretty big deal for a large market team.

Ducky
Guest
Ducky
2 years 6 months ago

*pitcher* not position player

Steven
Guest
Steven
2 years 6 months ago

Was Dick Allen available?

jdbolick
Member
Member
2 years 6 months ago

It’s a nice signing as long as he isn’t asked to do too much. He makes a nice counter for McCann & Ellsbury. It’s kind of interesting that Ryan Dempster was one of only four pitchers with 70+ innings to be worse than Capuano against RHBs last season.

Brian Cashman
Guest
Brian Cashman
2 years 6 months ago

I was told whoever won the offseason, WINS. Yes, we let our best player go, but I spent more than 300 M on a center fielder with no power and made someone who hasn’t thrown a pitch in MLB the fifth highest pitcher in baseball. Clearly Cashman wins!

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 6 months ago

Soft tossing lefties don’t generally experience a great deal of success at Fenway. Expect a big bump in ERA in going from the NL West to AL East even without that.

Surprised other teams in bigger parks/NL were not interested. Something does not smell right about this market for non-elite free agents. SP’ers should be in a lot more demand than they are.

shthar
Guest
shthar
2 years 6 months ago

He’s the new John Tudor!

Can’t wait till he signs with the cardinals.

ed
Guest
ed
2 years 6 months ago

Craig Breslow doesn’t throw very hard and he’s done just fine. Okajima was great in Fenway.

Expect an all-star performance from Capuano. Other teams were scared away because of shenanigans. Watch for further shenanigans later.

dragnalus
Guest
dragnalus
2 years 6 months ago

Not sure Breslow or Okajima are the best comps. They were specifically LOOGYs and Capuano seems set to be something of a 6th Starter/LR. Also Capuano typically relies on Fastball + Changeup without much breaking stuff whereas Breslow has a good Cutter and Okajima had a very good Splitter.

I don’t think anyone should expect an all-star performance from Cap, but he’ll be a good stop-gap in blown starts and hopefully offer a few solid spot starts on his own.

Atreyu Jones
Guest
Atreyu Jones
2 years 6 months ago

Okajima was not a LOOGY.

If Capuano pitches well he will succeed. If he’s bad, he will be bad. Having Fenway as his home park won’t change that, it will only change his superficial raw stats.

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 6 months ago

Neither Breslow nor Okajima were LOOGYs. You are just pulling things out of your ass.

Ducky
Guest
Ducky
2 years 6 months ago

“Expect an all-star performance from Capuano” Really?

ed
Guest
ed
2 years 6 months ago

No. Not really. I was just funnin’ on pft’s schtick.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 6 months ago

He throws 91, about 2-3 mph higher than Capuano. Koji is a RHP’er and has a devastating split. Honestly.

pft
Guest
pft
2 years 6 months ago

He meaning Breslow

ed
Guest
ed
2 years 6 months ago

Who the hell is talking about Koji? All those Japanese pitchers too hard for you to tell apart?

NS
Guest
NS
2 years 6 months ago

You can’t even fucking read. Honestly.

JamesFan
Guest
JamesFan
2 years 6 months ago

Dempster was a big issue in that he was slated to be a $13m long man. This was a perfect signing as there is almost no risk. $2.25m for a low leverage innings eater? Check. Pay him more if he’s actually successful? Check. Dump him if he stinks and bring in one of my kids from the farm? Check.

This is a win/win/win for the Red Sox as they take virtually zero risk due to the low cost. No way Capuano gets actual valuable innings unless a starter goes down. Then he’ll get a token 2 starts to see if he can actually succeed and be demoted back to low leverage innings in favor of whatever rookie is the flavor of the day if he doesn’t.

MrKnowNothing
Guest
MrKnowNothing
2 years 6 months ago

While this could be a general market reaction, it could also be evidence of agents and players embracing pillow contracts (ok. Low paying pillow contracts…). Don’t find your market and have injury history? Take a one year deal, below value, and presumably with a contender. Pitch well and have the “he helped win a title” tag – for what it’s worth.

MG
Guest
MG
2 years 6 months ago

There aren’t nearly enough comps used in this article to conclude that teams are clearly opting for different strategies with starting pitchers regarding injury risk status.

Compton
Guest
Compton
2 years 6 months ago

The generalization that teams are less inclined to sign injured pitchers is true, but it doesn’t say anything about how differently-injured pitchers are valued. For example, one shoulder injury is different than two, is different than an elbow and a shoulder, etc. How many other pitchers on the market have had 2 TJS’s? Throw in a past shoulder issue, and I think you have your explanation.

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