The Houston Astros’ bullpen will be a primary focus this winter after multiple heartbreaking collapses in the ALDS. GM Jeff Luhnow has shown his willingness not to overpay for relievers, as illustrated by this summer’s rejected Craig Kimbrel packages. As Eric Huysman pointed out, an Astros prospect package on par with who Boston gave up for Craig Kimbrel does not appear to be a likely course of action. A carousel of young internal options is feasible, as Michael Feliz, Vincent Velasquez, and Asher Wojciechowski exhibited (albeit brief) flashes of brilliance. However, their inconsistent results, command issues, and inexperience at the Major League level reinforce that Luhnow will acquire arms to mitigate any repeats of September and October’s bullpen collapses.
Carter Capps can be the flamethrower that the Astros need at a fraction of what Aroldis Chapman would cost. His unorthodox delivery turned heads this year, and the MLB upheld that his hop-step delivery is legal. His delivery makes his fastball, with an average velocity of 98.1 MPH, appear even faster. Josh Fields currently leads the bullpen at 94.3 MPH. (Stats from Fangraphs)
The deceptive speed of his fastball makes it difficult for batters to pull the ball, which is enticing for a team that was one of the league leaders in defensive shifts. He also has a remarkable mid-80s slider. Coupling his delivery with the 20 MPH difference between his two pitches makes him a dream project for Brent Strom’s philosophies and expertise in pitch tunneling.
Capps only pitched 31 innings in 2015 but led the majors with a 16.84 K/9. His 90.90% LOB% would have been second-best behind Wade Davis. His 0.58 HR/9 would have been second on the Astros behind Luke Gregerson. His 2.03 BB/9 was less than Tony Sipp‘s 2.48, Will Harris‘s 2.79, and Josh Fields‘ 3.38. Flaky September performances from Pat Neshek and Oliver Perez forced A.J. Hinch to rely more on Harris, Sipp, and Fields in the ALDS. They were hit hard during the playoffs, including the Game Four collapse.
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What could have happened if Capps pitched the full season? Maybe he dominates, maybe he fizzles right out. But a 1.3 WAR from 31 IP would have tied him for first place in the Astros bullpen with Josh Fields. The what-ifs will kill you in baseball, but it’s hard not to think of what Capps could have contributed to the 2015 Astros.
The Marlins front office is hot on Capps when he’s healthy. Elbow issues put him on the DL in August, and the Marlins shut him down in September. They held onto him at his peak through the trade deadline amid a losing season. However, the Marlins’ abominable farm system is also in dire need of talent. Capps, 26, is arbitration eligible and made $507,500 in 2015. Chris Carter or Jon Singleton could entice the Marlins, who have a void at 1B.
Remember, Luhnow turned Jarred Cosart, Kike Hernandez, and Austin Wates into Jake Marisnick, Colin Moran, Francis Martes, and Daz Cameron. One can be certain that Luhnow would love to deal with the Marlins again.