Closer Matt Capps, the Nationals' lone All-Star in 2010, was traded tonight to the Minnesota Twins for two players - catcher Wilson Ramos and left-hander Joe Testa.
Ramos, the Twins' top catching prospect, was mentioned prominently in the Twins' pursuit of Cliff Lee. He's 22 years old, and immediately gives the Nationals a close-to-the-big-leagues player at a position where they're sorely lacking for depth. He was hitting .241 at Triple-A Rochester with five homers and 30 RBI.
Testa, a 5-foot-10 reliever, had struck out 50 batters in 54 innings at two levels of the Twins' system. But he had struggled at New Britain, and was recently demoted to Single-A Fort Myers.
The Nationals also sent $500,000 to the Twins in the deal.
Manager Jim Riggleman said the Twins initiated talks about Capps. From there, general manager Mike Rizzo told Twins GM Bill Smith that Ramos was the player the Nationals had to have in return for Capps, Riggleman said.
"I think it's one of those situations that, in building for the future, we just felt as a group, that if we get an opportunity to get a kid like this Ramos from Minnesota, we had to do that," Riggleman said.
Capps, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Nationals in the offseason after coming off his worst year in the majors, became one of the team's biggest success stories this year. The save he earned for the Nationals on Thursday afternoon was his 26th of the season, and he led the NL in saves for most of the first half. But he would have been due a sizable raise after the season, and with a deep bullpen that includes no shortage of closer candidates, Capps became a classic sell-high case.
"It's kind of mixed emotions. I'm sad to be leaving the group of guys I'm leaving," Capps said. "I really enjoyed coming to the ballpark. With Mike Rizzo and the rest of the organization, the way they treated me, it was absolute pleasure every day so far this season. On the other hand, I'm excited about going to Minnesota, being right in the playoff race, the opportunity that can be there for me and the team that I'm going to. A lot of different things are going through me right now."
Capps said he was out to dinner with his wife at Georgia Brown's in the District when he got a call from Rizzo informing him he'd been traded. He wasn't expecting to be traded tonight, and had to double back to Nationals Park to pack his things for an 11:00 a.m. flight to the Twin Cities.
"(Rizzo said) he appreciated everything I had done this year, the way I had gone about my business, and if the opportunity comes across again, he'd love to work together again," Capps said. "The feeling is mutual. I told him and (manager Jim) Riggleman both, I'd play for them any day of the week. I sincerely mean that."
Capps said he had talked to Nationals reliever Sean Burnett about the news, but hadn't talked to other Nationals teammates yet. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire hadn't told Capps what his role would be, but the Star Tribune reported Capps will be the Twins' closer.
"I'll do whatever I can to help the ballclub win games," Capps said. "If it's in the sixth, it's in the sixth. If it's in the eighth, it's in the eighth. I'll play shortstop if they want. It won't be pretty, but I'll do it."
Riggleman said the Nationals will use a closer-by-committee approach the rest of the year; Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Joel Peralta and Sean Burnett will all be part of that puzzle, and Riggleman said he will play matchups and use the hot hand to get the ninth-inning outs.
It's a similar approach to what he was planning to use at the beginning of the year before Capps ran away with the job.
"We feel like Drew is the logical guy to take it on, but we don't want to put all that on him right now," Riggleman said. "If he is throwing good in the eighth, and decided to leave him out for the ninth, depending on who's coming up, that'd be good. But if Clippard or Burnett or Peralta throwing good, (we'd do that), or we might let Peralta get the first out, let Burnett face a batter. We'll have to mix and match."
For the Twins, the move doesn't have as much long-term benefit as it does for the Nationals. They were worried about former Nationals reliever Jon Rauch in the closer's role, but now they'll have to give Capps a big raise next year, when All-Star Joe Nathan is back from Tommy John surgery. Capps would then likely be the setup guy, or a nice insurance policy if Nathan isn't ready.