Monday, July 8, 2013
Best deadline deal ever: Nationals
By Harper Gordek
Throughout July we're going to present 30 deals in 30 days: The best trade deadline deal ever made by each team. We've covered the AL East so far and are now on the NL East.
THE TEAM: Washington Nationals
THE YEAR: 2010
THE SITUATION: The Nats hadn't been relevant in the playoff race since their inaugural season in D.C. and 2010 was no different. That year, however, they had a decent trade chip in Matt Capps. Capps had been closing for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but they abandoned him after a terrible 2009 and the Nats promptly scooped him up. Capps bounced back to save 20 games for the Nats with a 2.74 ERA and represented the squad in the All-Star Game. Hidden behind these numbers, however, was a 1.3+ WHIP that suggested there was some smoke and mirrors involved here.
The Twins, meanwhile, were in a dogfight for the AL Central crown, at the time looking up at the Chicago White Sox. Their longtime closer, Joe Nathan, was out for the year after Tommy John surgery. His replacement, Jon Rauch, was doing the job, but was inconsistent and Twins management longed for the "proven closer" to set the bullpen back to being a strength.
THE TRADE: The Nats traded Capps to the Twins for Wilson Ramos and Joe Testa. Even with a well-liked young catcher in their system in Derek Norris, the deal was a no-brainer for Washington. At age 22, Ramos was one of the most highly-regarded catching prospects in the minors, putting up .300 lines from Rookie League to Double-A with lauded defense. For the Twins, they rationalized the trade by noting that Ramos would be stuck behind Joe Mauer for the foreseeable future and his current struggles in Triple-A made them question whether he had enough bat for another position like designated hitter or first base. Also, Capps was only 26 himself and under team control for another season.
THE AFTERMATH: Capps would do the job for the Twins, pitching legitimately better while closing 16 games with a 2.00 ERA. He wouldn't make a difference in the playoffs, however, as the Twins would be swept by the Yankees and never carry a lead into the late innings.
Ramos would become the Nats' primary catcher in 2011 and put up a good .267/.334/.445 line in 113 games. Unfortunately, injuries have limited him to just over 40 games played in 2012 and 2013 (he just recently returned from the disabled list). Why is this then their best deadline deal as opposed to say, the deal that brought in Mike Morse? First, Ramos, who continues to hit well when healthy (his 114 OPS+ since 2011 is ninth among catchers with at least 150 games played), still hasn't reached arbitration and will be under team control through 2016. He has the remainder of this year and three additional years to provide the Nationals a cheap answer at a hard-to-fill position. Second, his performance in 2011 allowed the Nats to include Norris in the deal for Gio Gonzalez. Gonzalez has been one of the best pitchers in the NL since entering the league and was a big reason why the Nats put up their 98-win campaign of 2012.
--Harper Gordek, Nats Baseball