Capps finalizes $3.5M, 1-year contract with Nats

Updated: January 6, 2010, 7:54 PM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- Put a few rows of folding chairs in the middle of the clubhouse and place a white jersey with "CAPPS" and "55" on a hanger. No TV coverage, no cameras, no standard shake-the-GM's-hand pose Wednesday.

The official presentation of Matt Capps as Washington's new closer could hardly have been any more low-key -- it came a few hours before the NFL's Redskins introduced a new head coach -- and Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo wanted to make something perfectly clear.

"We're in a little bit of an informal setting here, just because of the things that are happening today in D.C.," Rizzo said, "but this is a major, major announcement for the Washington Nationals."

Capps agreed in late December to a $3.5 million, one-year contract, plus $425,000 in performance bonuses for games finished. The deal was finalized Tuesday, when Capps passed a physical exam that took about eight hours.

Capps' agent, Paul Kinzer, said the Nationals called about five minutes after the pitcher became a free agent last month, when the Pittsburgh Pirates declined to offer a contract for 2010.

Of the Pirates' decision to let him go, Capps said: "It was shocking. I kind of knew it was a possibility ... but it kind of surprised me. And then the surprise and the shock and almost fear at first turned into excitement within the first couple of days, talking to Mr. Rizzo and a couple of other teams."

Kinzer said more than a dozen teams contacted him about making an offer -- including three proposals for two years and more money than Washington gave Capps.

But other clubs wanted to make Capps a setup man. The Nationals told him he would close games for them. Rizzo even had tried to deal for the right-hander before July's trading deadline.

"Matt was on our map for a long time," Rizzo said. "He encompasses everything we're trying to do here: young, character, hard-nosed, guts on the mound, not afraid, a winning attitude on and off the field. He's a guy we identified, and we went after him."

The 26-year-old Capps was 4-8 with a 5.80 ERA and 27 saves in 32 chances last season, striking out 46 in 54 1-3 innings. He also allowed 10 homers, something he and Rizzo attributed to a "flat" fastball.

"My numbers don't look good from last year," Capps acknowledged.

He made his major league debut in 2005 and has career totals of 67 saves, a 19-19 record and 3.61 ERA, all with the Pirates. He would start earning his bonuses with 40 games finished and would get the full amount with 65.

He gives the Nationals an experienced closer as they work to rebuild a bullpen that was among the team's biggest problems in 2009, when Washington finished 59-103, the worst record in the majors. It was the second consecutive year that the Nationals lost more than 100 games.

Mike MacDougal was signed in May and finished the season as Washington's closer, getting 20 saves in 21 chances. But the Nationals did not offer him a contract for next season.

Instead, Rizzo set out to rebuild the bullpen, trading for New York Yankees reliever Brian Bruney, agreeing to a minor league contract with Eddie Guardado and adding Capps. The Nationals also have signed starter Jason Marquis and catcher Ivan Rodriguez to free-agent deals.

"We recognize we have deficiencies still," Rizzo said, "and we're going to address them and attack them."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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