I just returned from Wrigley Field, where the Pirates defeated the Cubs in a wild game that seemed to drag on for at least 14 hours. In the ninth inning, Geovany Soto smoked a line drive off the arm of Matt Capps, sending Capps tumbling toward the dugout in pain. I hate to speculate before the results of his X-Ray are known, but I assume we will be without Capps for a while. That means we need a new closer.
The easy choice, and the player I expect to receive the opportunity, is John Grabow. He is easily the most established pitcher in the bullpen, and it would not hurt to build up his trade value with some greater exposure. While that line of thinking probably makes sense, particularly with the trade deadline on the horizon, I think the Pirates might want to look for a closer of the future.
I have been in favor of dealing Capps for prospects for a couple of years now. With the unpredictability of reliever performance and the way that they are overvalued in baseball, the Pirates should always look to deal a young closer once he establishes himself at the major league level. The team simply is not good enough to worry about having an above average closer. That should be one of the final pieces in building a winning team. This is why the Mike Gonzalez-Adam LaRoche trade was a smart move.
Also, I have never been a big believer in Capps being anything more than a quality set-up man over the long haul. He has a solid fastball that he is able to locate well, but that’s about it. It does not move much, and his secondary stuff, while improved, is only ordinary. Continually pounding the strike zone with a decent fastball can be a recipe for disaster late in a close game.
Capps’ trade value is lower than it was a year or two ago, but I think it would be wise for the Pirates to begin grooming his successor. If he is to miss an extended period of time due to his most recent injury, that would make for a perfect opportunity to see what some other guys can do. Evan Meek and Jesse Chavez are the logical long-term solutions. Both have great stuff and have the potential to develop into dominant late-inning relievers. Chavez has been particularly nasty. He entered tonight’s game with a 1.86 ERA and a 3.41 FIP. He has been extremely reliable, which is clear from looking at his 2009 game logs below (courtesy of Fangraphs.com).
Eighteen of Chavez’s 22 appearances have been scoreless, and he allowed only one run in those other four outings. He is pitching with loads of confidence and he is the guy I want to see on the mound in a high-leverage situation. Let’s see what the Pirates decide to do.