Capps surprised by Bucs non-tender
Now a free agent, closer will seek new home for 2010
PITTSBURGH -- For the past week, Matt Capps had seen and heard the same things as everyone else. He had read general manager Neal Huntington's comments on Wednesday, when Huntington confirmed that the team intended to tender contracts to all three of its arbitration-eligible players.
So needless to say, Capps was caught quite off guard when he woke up on Sunday to find out that he was now a free agent looking for a job.
The Pirates opted not to tender Capps a contract for 2010 by Saturday's 11:59 p.m. ET deadline. Capps was one of 39 arbitration-eligible players not offered a contract before midnight.
"I didn't know," Capps said when asked if he had any indication he'd be non-tendered. "All I know is what I was told and that was basically what I had been reading last week. But plans change, and I didn't fit into it.
"I didn't want it to happen," he continued. "I know I didn't have the best of years last year, but I know what I'm capable of doing. There are no hard feelings. I have a lot of great friends who are still putting on that uniform."
Capps was due a raise from his $2.35 million salary, and the Pirates ultimately determined that such a cost outweighed Capps' value.
"If Matt is what he was in '07 and in the first half in '08, it's a no-brainer to tender him," Huntington said on Sunday. "While we believe Matt can be a bounce-back candidate for next season, we just weren't willing to go through the arbitration process and risk losing. We got to a number that was our final offer, and when they rejected it, we felt like this was our only option."
Huntington noted that the Pirates went into the Winter Meetings intent on trying to trade Capps so that they would not find themselves cutting ties with the closer and getting nothing in return. However, when a newspaper report early last week speculated that the Pirates planned to non-tender Capps, the reliever lost all of his trade value.
"That [report] destroyed all trade possibilities at the Winter Meetings," Huntington said. "We felt like we had a good chance [to trade him]. It wasn't our intention to non-tender Matt Capps until we realized that no deal could be put in place."
The 26-year-old closer would be the first to admit that his '09 season was a forgettable one despite the fact that he recorded a career-best 27 saves.
He finished the year with a 5.80 ERA, eight losses and five blown saves. It is worth noting, though, that of the 35 earned runs Capps allowed in 54 1/3 innings, 12 of those came in just three appearances (two innings), which certainly swelled his ERA.
"There were a lot of things that contributed," Capps said of his struggles. "It was the first year coming off an injury. I dug myself into a little bit of a hole early and felt like I had to save it with each pitch. Still, you take away three games and my games are pretty good. But unfortunately for me, you can't do that."
On Sunday, Capps was still trying to come to grips with the fact that his career with the club that drafted him in the seventh round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft was likely over. Though Capps said he won't rule out the possibility of a potential return to Pittsburgh (the two sides are still free to negotiate with one another), such a reunion seems unlikely. Capps had garnered plenty of interest in the trade market, and now that he is available to any team, there are expected to be a number of interested suitors.
"I've been a Pirate, heart and soul, for the last seven years," Capps said. "That's all I know. I took a lot of pride in everything I did. I believe in their process. I know what they're trying to do. I would have taken a lot of pride in being part of the change.
"No door is ever closed in my life," Capps added. "If they want me to be a Pirate, then I'll be a Pirate. I've been a Pirate forever. We'll see what happens over these next few weeks."
Huntington, too, left the door opened for continued negotiations with Capps. The only way that the two would happen, though, would be if Capps comes down from his current asking price.
"The door is still open for Matt to still negotiate if he doesn't find what he's looking for and we don't commit to anyone else," Huntington said. "He and his agent felt like he could get more money elsewhere. They could be right on that. They could be wrong on that. We felt like we could bring back some pitchers that could match the performance that we expected to get from Matt. We could be right, we could be wrong."
With such little time having passed since Saturday's midnight announcement, Capps hadn't really yet allowed himself to consider what the free-agent market might bring. Even though he has been a closer since June 2007, Capps said he would be willing to sign with a club without the guarantee that he would serve such a role next season.
"There are a lot of circumstances that surround all of it," he said. "It just depends on the team, what the situation is like and what my opportunities would be. I'm not closing myself to anything by saying that I have to be a closer to sign. When I was drafted by the Pirates and made it to the big leagues, I wasn't a closer. If that's something I have to earn back and fight for, I'll do that.
"There's a greater plan for all of us. This is just the card that I've been dealt."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.