The Pittsburgh media had questions. Neal Huntington had answers.
Why wasn't Capps offered arbitration?
"We didn't feel like going through the process with Matt was a good decision for us," said Huntington, "We feel like we can take that money and apply it elsewhere and do as well as we expeted Matt to do."
The money in question is no more than $3.5 million. That's around what Capps was expected to ask for in arbitration.
So, if arbitration wasn't an option, why didn't Capps get traded?
According to Huntington, "All trade value disappeared when there was a media report of a non-tender."
That's a clear reference to this report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This sounds a bit like an issue with the paper's reporting, but the paper is quick to point out that Huntington has made it clear he is not pleased that the information was leaked. He does not have an issue with the paper's reporting.
One last question: What are you going to do about the hole, Neal?
"We've got one more than we were anticipating," Huntington explained, "But the reality is, we've now got some money to apply to the bullpen to fill Matt's spot and elsewhere. We'll continue to explore. If you're talking about the Matt Capps of '07 or '08, that would be very, very difficult to replace. He's probably not somebody we non-tender. The second half of '08 and into '09 ... it's not that hard to replace a reliever with a 5.00 or 6.00 ERA. We'll miss Matt, and we wish him well. The only reason we had interest in him is that we felt he's due to have a bounce-back year. But there are other options out there. Like Matt gambled that he can get more through free agency, we're gambling that we can replace him with similar dollars toward one or multiple pieces."
This isn't quite the level Neal went to when he threw Ian Snell under the bus, but he again exhibited a unique way of killing his own team's assets. I'm amazed that he discussed how easy Capps will be to replace and later said, "We'd love to have Matt Capps back in our bullpen. We really would. We feel he's going to have a bounce-back year, and we hope, for our sake, that the market shows we were appropriate." It's borderline schizophrenic!
I understand where Huntington is coming from, and to a certain extent he is right. Capps had a bad year that does not warrant the money he would have got in arbitration. The Pirates have limited financial resources too, and sinking money into a bullpen is an inefficient use of resources. Solid bullpens can be cobbled together for next to nothing. For instance, look at the 2009 Mariners.
However, Huntington should have seen this situation coming by the trade deadline. He knew by then that Capps was struggling through a bad season, and would be in line for a raise he wasn't willing to give him. There were offers on the table for Capps from other teams at the deadline. The Pirates would have been selling low, but they at least would have got something, instead of giving Capps up for nothing. There is an unacceptable lack of vision wrapped up in Capps' departure.
Furthermore, Huntington's public comments continue to display a lack of commitment from the Pirates organization to its players. He puts all the pressure on the players to perform, and when they don't, he throws them under the bus (like he did with Snell) and/or casts them aside (as he did with Snell, and now with Capps).
It is good to hold players to standards, but Huntington's public approach is terrible. It is imperative that the Pirates foster an atmosphere that players develop in, and want to play in, especially with their limited financial resources. However, why would a player invest their career in the Pirates when they see the organization ditch players the instant they underperform/ask for too much money/become expensive? That's probably not how Huntington sees it, but how can't a player see it that way?
Neal Huntington will continue to make decisions generally regarded as fiscally responsible and savvy. That's good, and especially good in a smaller market. However, Pittsburgh isn't going anywhere under him until he commits to someone. Maybe he is clearing the way for Andrew McCutcheon, Pedro Alvarez, and Brad Lincoln, but I'm skeptical.
Sometimes players have off years, like Capps just did. It happens, and it will probably happen in the future with some of Pittsburgh's current top prospects. Will Huntington ditch them too in the name of market efficiency?