Coming into the 2011 season, it was evident that Sandy Alderson had an uphill battle to fight, at least in the immediate future. Tasked with building a competitive team on semi-limited funds- sure, the Mets had a large total payroll, but a substantial portion of it was already invested in a few players, including Johan Santana ($22.5 million), Carlos Beltran ($18 million), Francisco Rodriguez ($12 million), and Jason Bay ($16 million), plus a few million on players that were eventually cut from the team, such as Luis Castillo ($6 million) and Oliver Perez ($12 million)- Alderson mad a bunch of low-key signings, earning him the moniker "Small Market Sandy" among the more shortsighted portion of the fanbase. On such move was signing Chris Capuano for $1.5 million dollars (with incentives based on making up to 32 starts and pitching up to 200 innings).
Capuano had been out of baseball for almost three years. The former All-Star underwent Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career in 2008 (the first time being back in 2002, before he made his Major League debut), right before the season began. He never pitched in the Major Leagues in 2009, throwing only 9 innings in Rookie Ball because of rehab setbacks and lingering injury concerns and soreness. In 2010, he threw 25 innings in AAA, and made it back to the Major Leagues, throwing 66 innings in 9 starts and a bunch of relief appearances for the Brewers. When Alderson signed him, he was a low-risk, moderate-reward type player. Would he be the type of player he was from 2005-2007, where he posted consecutive 1.8, 3.9, 1.7 WAR seasons, or would he be ineffective because of injury?
As it turns out, unlike fellow teammate Chris Young- who was in the same low-risk, moderate reward boat as Capuano- Capuano has had a very good season. As I write this, he has been worth 1.6 WAR, pitching 163.1 innings to the tune of a 4.63 ERA, 3.98 FIP and 3.72 xFIP. His 7.88 K/9 rate is right around career levels (a tad higher than the 7.48 he's averaged), and his 2.59 BB/9 rate is right around career levels (a tad lower than the 2.95 he's averaged). His biggest weakness has been giving up the longball, something that Citi Field has protected him from (14 home runs allowed on the road, as opposed to 8 at home). According to ESPN's Game Score Counter, his masterful performance on August 26th against the Braves (9.0 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 13 K) was the best pitching performance of the season, netting 96 points. With only a few starts remaining, assuming he continue pitching the way he has, Capuano's 2011 season will be the second-best of his career.
This raises an important, and tough question: Should Sandy Alderson re-sign Chris Capuano for 2012 (and possibly beyond)? There are many, many things to consider.
First thing to keep in mind is that, Johan Santana should be back in a Mets uniform for 2012. With Johan penciled back in, the rotation will consist of him, R.A. Dickey, Jon Niese, and presumably Mike Pelfrey and Dillon Gee (not taking into account any other possible free agent signings that might take place in the off-season). Do the Mets trade either Pelfrey or Gee, and thus, open up a spot in the rotation for Capuano? Does the reliable-if-not-highly-impressive Pelfrey get non-tendered? Do the Mets send the cheap, replacement-level Gee to the Minor Leagues, opening a spot up for the better, but more expensive Capuano?
Another thing to keep in mind is Capuano's health. Though he's going to end the season with around 175 IP, can we trust that he'll repeat that? He hasn't shown any ill effects of his most recent Tommy John surgery, but the stigma is there- might he? He'll also be turning 34 next season. Is his age going to catch up with him, as it relates to his physical health?
Price is also something that needs to be addressed. How much will he ask for on the open market, and for how long? If Capuano asks for $7 million dollars- a reasonable price for a single year, considering his WAR/Dollar value was $10 million dollars or there about for the 2011 season- does Alderson agree? How much money does the team have to spend- especially since re-signing Jose Reyes is top priority, and after he is signed, the team will have a limited amount of money to use to address other parts of the team? If he asks for a reasonable sum that Alderson is willing to pay, how long do we want him around? Theoretically, by the end of 2012 or so, Matt Harvey might be ready to make his MLB debut. By 2013, Harvey, Wheeler, Familia and Mejia might all be ready. If Capuano wants more than a single-year contract (which he likely will), is it worth it to give him one, since his spot in the rotation might not be guaranteed?
Chris Capuano's status for 2012 is one of the hardest questions Sandy Alderson is going to have to deal with, quite frankly. He's been good enough to merit being on the team in 2012 based on performance, but outside considerations not related to anything Capuano has control over raise questions as to whether or not he will be. He's someone you don't necessarily want to see go, even if he isn't necessarily a fit for the future, based on circumstances.