Chad Cordero went down with a torn labrum in early April 2008, 128 saves into a career that began five years earlier when the Montreal Expos made the then-21-year-old right-hander out of Cal State Fullerton their '03 1st Round pick. After Cordero it was the Tallest Pitcher in MLB History, the 6'11'' mountain of a man known as Jon Rauch who saved 17 games for DC in '08 before he was dealt to the Arizona Diamonbacks in return for infielder Emilio Bonifacio. Joel Hanrahan emerged as a late-game option in Rauch's stead, and in 2009, barely tested in the role, he was handed the closer's job. Hanrahan, unfortunately, failed spectacularly, flaming out in a short time and finding himself dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates halfway through the season. Garrett Mock, Joe Beimel, Ron Villone and Julian Tavarez all were given a shot after Hanrahan faltered, but not until Mike MacDougal emerged did the Washington Nationals finally find a suitable replacement for the Flat-Brimmed Closer Chad Cordero, whose unexpected absence left a void in the organization. After MacDougal's kind-of-a-comeback season, he was due a raise that the Nationals apparently felt uncomfortable paying, so he was non-tendered, and so far appears unlikely to return...
The Nationals selected Stanford Cardinal closer Drew Storen with their second 1st Round pick last season, after taking Stephen Strasburg 1st overall, but the days of Washington's 1st Round picks rushing into roles they're unprepared for are apparently over...Drew Storen will be given a chance to compete for the closer's role in Spring Training, and he may very well earn himself a spot in the 2010 bullpen even if it isn't immediately as the stopper, but DC GM Mike Rizzo isn't taking any chances, having acquired right-hander Brian Bruney in a trade, signed veteran lefties Doug Slaten and Eddie Guardado, (I think, right?) and now reportedly inked 26-year-old free agent right-hander Matt Capps to be part of a rebuilt bullpen that will likely feature all four players mentioned above as well as Jason Bergmann, Sean Burnett, Tyler Clippard and possibly Craig Stammen and Collin Balester.
In an article entitled, "Capps, Nats agree to one-year deal", MLB.com's Bill Ladson announced the signing of Capps late last night after a long negotiation between the Nationals and Capps' agent Paul Kinzer that resulted in a one-year deal the terms of which have yet to be announced. "'[I liked the Nationals because of] the way Mr. Rizzo treated me throughout this whole process,'" Capps told the MLB.com writer:
"'The Nationals organization has been first class," Capps said. "They expressed their interest from Day One -- the moment I was non-tendered. They wanted me to become a Washington National. That means a lot. The feeling of being wanted is very important. I felt that from them from Day One."
The 6'3'' 238 lb right-hander out of Douglasville, Georgia was the Pittsburgh Pirates' 7th Round pick in 2002 and by 2007 he was closing games in the Majors along with reliever Salomon Torres. In '08, Capps took over the closer's role, saving 21 in 49 games and 53.2 IP in which he allowed 18 ER (3.02 ERA), 5 HR (0.8 HR/9) and 5 BB (0.8 BB/9) while collecting 39 K's (6.5 K/9) and putting up a 0.96 WHIP. Last season, Capps faltered, posting a 5.80 ERA in 57 games and 54.1 IP over which he saved 27 but gave up 35 ER and 17 walks (2.8 BB/9) while striking out 46 (7.6 K/9) and putting up a 1.65 WHIP.
The Pirates non-tendered Capps, who was due a substantial raise in arbitration over the $2.42 million he pitched for in 2008, and the closer drew immediate interest from half-a-dozen MLB teams, eventually winnowing his choices down to two teams, the Cubs and Nationals, before deciding last night to follow free agent catcher Pudge Rodriguez and pitcher Jason Marquis in signing with a DC team that is finally finding itself attractive to top level free agent talent now that GM Mike Rizzo has taken over the job of building the organization into a contender. The Nationals, as Capps explains in Mr. Ladson's article, offered Capps an opportunity that wasn't available in Chicago:
"'They are giving me an opportunity to close out the ballgame, which was important to me,' Capps added. 'I feel that is an opportunity I'm going to have. It's going to be a lot of fun in Washington. I'm looking forward to 2010 and beyond...If I pitch the way I know I can pitch and the team has the success they should have, it's going to be a lot of fun.'"
The Washington Nationals have a new closer, or at least Capps will compete with Brian Bruney for the role. It might be Drew Storen's job one day soon, but the Washington Nationals are going to allow their second '09 1st Round pick to take his time adjusting to the major league game. Until he does, Capps will be locking down the Nationals' wins, as he looks to rebound from a tough '09 season and help the DC franchise compete in what, in spite of Washington's offseason success, is going to be a very competitive NL East.
• According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazzette.com article by Dejan Kovacevic, Capps signed with Washington for 1-year and $3.5 million dollars, with incentives that could add as much as $425,000 dollars to the deal.
• Washington Post writer Chico Harlan's take on the Capps' signing in a Nationals Journal post entitled, "Capps, Nats agree to deal."