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Free Agent Target: Chris Capuano

December 12, 2012

I wanted to do a series of pieces on players I think the A’s ought to target on the free agent market. So what better way to start that series than to profile a pitcher who I think the A’s sure acquire who is not a free agent? In order to keep the series one with similar names, I decided I am fine with first up Chris Capuano of the Los Angeles Dodgers being a free-agent target despite not being a free agent. The Dodgers have a starting rotation with about seven MLB pitchers and of course just five spots. They figure to trade Capuano or Aaron Harang (tomorrow’s feature) and here is are some reasons why Oakland should, and why Oakland shouldn’t go after him.

Capuano, a native of Springfield, Massachusetts, is a 34 year old left hander. Originally drafted in the eighth round of the 1999 amateur draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks, he made his debut with them in 2003. He was later dealt in a somewhat significant trade as one of six Dbacks sent to Milwaukee in exchange for Richie Sexson and two other Brewers. It was with the Brewers (2004-2010) that he had most of his success throwing 744 2/3 innings of 8.1 WAR baseball with a 4.34 ERA and 4.47 FIP as he threw 7.4 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 while allowing 1.3 HR/9. He had two very good years in 20o5 and 2006 before a miserable 2007 campaign and then missing all of 2008 and all of 2009 in the majors at least care of his second Tommy John surgery. He made four starts in 2010 for the Brewers before resuming his career with the New York Mets in 2011 during a 1.6 WAR season where he threw 186 innings. He signed as a free-agent with the Dodgers last December and put up a good season in Chavez Ravine going 198 1/3 innings (his highest total since 2006) featuring 7.4 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 1.1 HR/9 for a 3.95 FIP to compliment his 3.72 ERA.

Capuano, who is to be paid $6M in 2013 with bonuses to be paid out for certain innings thresholds, has a mutual option of $8M ($1M buyout) for 2014 features a high 80s fastball, slider and heavily relied upon change up. He is a finesse pitcher who gets an above average number of swinging strikes (10.5% for his career, 11.1% in 2012). He has one of the better pick off moves in MLB.

Why Oakland Should Get Him

The price of starting pitching on the open market is high. Joe Blanton‘s deal was demonstrative of that as he got two years and $15M from the Angels, despite being a middle of the road pitcher. Capuano at $14M for those two years (though that could go up based on escalators tacked to innings pitched) is reasonably priced for a pitcher who is arguably better (Blanton has had a very high ERA the past two seasons but low FIPs making him appear to be a better pitcher than he was. His high BABIP and the fact he was hit so hard to me is indicative that the ERA is not lying there so the artificially low ERA doesn’t tell the whole story). Also the potential for it being two years makes it a nice deal for Oakland to get a veteran arm in a young rotation. Averaging 190 innings the past two seasons is a good sign though obviously there are questions about his durability.

I think given the Dodgers’ need to unload him and right now there being other pitchers on the market he likely comes quite cheap. I assume Oakland can assume the entire contract and give away a token low level prospect to secure his services (or maybe even a change of scenery type guy like a Michael Taylor?). As with any deal if Los Angeles is to assume salary, I presume then the quality of Oakland’s prospect must increase as well.

Capuano furthermore, though this is true of most pitchers, seems like someone who would benefit from pitching in Oakland as he is a bit more of a fly ball pitcher than the typical guy (39.1% for Capuano, with league average being 34.0%) so the thicker air might help keep that FB/HR ratio lower. His flyball ratio is very highly skewed, with right-handers putting 42.5% of balls in the air over the course of his career (just 28.9% to lefties). (That same split exists with grounders, where lefties ground out 54.5% of the time against him in his career compared to just 37.3% for righties) Capuano being a fly ball pitcher benefits him even more with the great infield foul ground and then furthermore he is the type of pitcher who greatly benefits from Oakland’s incredible outfield defense and minimizes the damage that could be done by what looks to be a more porous infield defense in 2013.

Why Oakland Should Steer Clear

The price of starting pitching is staggering but at the same time other pitchers exist in a similar price range (they’ll be featured going forward) and as free agents they don’t also require Oakland sending a player of some potential value shipping to acquire them. At $14M total or $7M just for 2013, the A’s might be able to buy even better pitchers for less.

His durability is also a major question. This is a pitcher who has had two Tommy John surgeries. And while he has pitched a combined 384 1/3 innings the past two seasons, in the three seasons prior to that including MiLB innings he only managed a grand total of 114 2/3 innings. Oakland can ill afford to go to a eighth and ninth starter on the depth chart again. They already have a balky pitcher in Brett Anderson, they have a very aged pitcher in Bartolo Colon, why add more injury concern to the mix? Basically giving something needless up, to get an injury prone pitcher might not be the best way the A’s invest their limited resources.

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