A lot has been written about the Pirates' decision to non-tender Matt Capps this past off-season. Simply put, one side, which I will call the DK/Charlie side, has argued that the Pirates can't let "assets' leave the organization for nothing. They feel the Pirates should have kept Capps and, if he returned to his pre-2009 form, turned him into another asset through a trade. The other side, which I have argued, believes the Pirates made a decision that Capps wasn't worth the money he was going to make in arbitration (he signed with the Nats for $3.5 million), he wasn't generating any interest in the trade market and that they could find a replacement of equal or greater value in the free agent market. I'm not trying to pigeonhole anyone into a position and there is a lot of gray between those black and white options, but you get the idea.
As mentioned, Capps signed a one-year deal with the Nationals for $3.5 million with some performance bonuses. Among other reasons, he chose the Nats because he would be the closer.
The Pirates signed Octavio Dotel to a contract that paid him $3.5 million in 2010 and had a club option to pay him $4.5 million in 2011. Dotel chose the Pirates because they told him he would be the closer.
Fast forward to late July 2010. Both the Nationals and Pirates have good young relievers who are ready to close. The Nats have Drew Storen, the tenth overall pick in the 2009 amateur draft. The Pirates actually have two in Joel Hanrahan and Evan Meek. It is worth noting that if traded, Dotel's option becomes a mutual option, so the team acquiring him is not guaranteed to have him next year as the Pirates would have been had they kept him and chosen to exercise the option.
In evaluating everything, how Capps and Dotel performed is now irrelevant. It wasn't irrelevant before the trades, so let's compare their seasons.
G IP H R ER BB SO ERA WHIP HR/9 ERA+
Matt Capps 47 46.0 51 20 14 9 38 2.74 1.304 1.0 151 .274/.308/.414
Octavio Dotel 41 40.0 35 21 19 17 48 4.28 1.300 1.1 95 .236/.322/.439
Dotel had a six appearance stretch in April where he was just plain bad. He gave up 11 of his 17 earned runs and both the unearned runs during that stretch. Between May 17 and June 6 Capps gave up nine earned runs and 5 unearned runs. Overall, though, both guys have been effective. Dotel gets a few more strikeouts, Capps has a little better control. Maybe you would give Capps the slightest edge, but it's about as even as it gets, really.
So it comes down to the return each team got over the past week. Capps will be eligible for his third year of arbitration this off-season while Dotel has the mutual option. Those are not exactly equal, but probably didn't impact the trades very differently. For Capps the Nationals got Wilson Ramos, a hightly regarded catching prosect and Joe Testa. For Dotel (and $50K) the Pirates got James McDonald and Andrew Lambo.
My Take: The Pirates weren't going to have both Matt Capps and Octavio Dotel on the roster this year. It turns out that both guys made the same amount of money and performed about equally. Now with the advantage of hindsight, I still don't think Neal Huntington made a mistake non-tendering Matt Capps. The performance of the players received in each trade will determine who got the better return. But, play judge and jury now.