The baseball world received a little of a jolt the past couple of days when it was reported that lefty Paul Maholm signed with the Los Angels Dodgers. In sharp contrast to previous Dodgers moves, like the signing of Zack Greinke and the extension of Clayton Kershaw, it was not because of how much the Dodgers paid, but how little. Maholm, coming off a tough 2013 but strong seasons in 2011 and 2012, received just $1.5 million in guaranteed money to go along with $5 million in incentives. Now a pitcher in a relatively similar boat, ex-Dodger and fellow lefty Chris Capuano, could end up with even less. With that in mind, could the Rays look into signing him?
Capuano, 35, delivered a solid season for Los Angeles in 2012, going 12-12 with a 3.72 ERA, a 7.4 K/9, a 2.5 BB/9, and a 1.1 HR/9 in 33 starts and 198.1 innings pitched. 2013, however, was not as good as he slipped to a 4.26 ERA in just 106.2 innings pitched, missing time with calf, shoulder, and groin strains. Capuano has a solid arsenal, combining his high-80’s sinker with two strong secondary pitches in his changeup and slider, but he is nearly four years older than Maholm without nearly as much success the last three years. If Maholm received just $1.5 million guaranteed, could Capuano really receive more? There is talk that a potential problem with his elbow could have lowered Maholm’s earnings, but Capuano has plenty of injury problems of his own. Nevertheless, if a team could get Capuano for even less than Maholm received, he suddenly looks like a bargain. Some team will sign him for a low cost, and if he is open to spending some time in the bullpen, that team could be the Rays.
The Rays have some questions in their starting rotation now with Jeremy Hellickson set to begin the season on the disabled list. If signed, Chris Capuano could provide a veteran option to compete with rookies Jake Odorizzi and Alex Colome. But even if he does not win a rotation spot, Capuano could be an interesting pitcher for the Rays bullpen. In 47.1 career relief innings, Capuano has nearly identical strikeout and walk rates to his time as a starter to go along with an ERA nearly a fun run less, providing hope that he could do fine in such a role. Capuano has also shut down left-handed batters for his career, holding them to just a .231/.288/.331 line, and as a starting pitcher moving to relief, he could still potentially get right-handed batters out as well. Capuano would fill a similar role as Cesar Ramos did last year, at least to start, but Capuano has several advantages. Foremost among them: Capuano is much better at getting left-handed batters out and would be a more reasonable candidate to start games should the need arise. With his arsenal, though, Capuano could emerge as a higher-leverage option against lefty batters before long.
Would Capuano be willing to settle for such a role? The Rays would not automatically slot him in the bullpen and would be perfectly willing to start Capuano in the big league rotation with Odorizzi and Colome at Triple-A if they believed it will help them win the most games. The Rays would be giving Capuano every chance to succeed in whatever role he ended up with. If the Rays offered Capuano a contract with say the same $1.5 million guarantee and incentives for both starting and relieving, Capuano would be betting on himself and getting both the money and opportunity he is looking for. As the Rays look to make their final moves before spring training, Chris Capuano is a realistic target and a player they could actually sign.