PITTSBURGH -- Barring a trade, which does remain a realistic possibility, Matt Capps will return to the Pirates as the team's closer in 2010, said general manager Neal Huntington.
Management intends to stand by its closer despite the struggles Capps has had in the role this season. And even though Capps is in line for a raise from the $2.3 million salary he made this season, it's expected that the Pirates will tender him a contract this offseason.
"There is a lot of thought that this is just a bad year for Matt Capps and that he had a hard time digging out from underneath it but that he should be fine for next year," Huntington said. "It's been a bad year for him, but we think he can bounce back."
Capps came into a tie game on Sunday and proceeded to give up three runs (two earned) on three hits in the ninth. He was fortunate that the Pirates' four-run rally in the bottom half of the inning kept him from picking up his ninth loss of the season, but regardless of the team result, Capps' latest individual performance is simply the most recent in a string of struggles.
His 5.91 ERA is second highest among all Major League closers, and since July 12, Capps' ERA sits even higher at 7.30. He has blown five saves and hitters are batting .326 against him. This comes one year after Capps held hitters to a .234 batting average.
So what's behind this sudden steep descent in numbers and results? That apparently remains a perplexing question to all involved.
"I think the biggest thing for us is to evaluate what is different and why is Matt not having the success that he was having in '07 and in the first half of '08," Huntington said. "We don't see an injury. We don't see a fall off in stuff. We see a guy that we believe can have a bounce back year if he does the right things this offseason and if he grows mentally."
That said, Capps' job is nowhere near as stable as it was coming into this year. It's no secret that the Pirates were willing to listen to trade offers for the 26-year-old pitcher throughout the season, and they certainly won't stop this winter. It remains to be seen, though, whether this '09 campaign has decreased Capps' value too much for the Pirates to get a return that is deemed to be adequate.
Asked about this trade possibility, Huntington left the door wide open. "You never know how trade negotiations might go," he said. "You never know if a trade topic jumps up."
Furthermore, the Pirates will enter the '10 season with a handful of other young pitchers -- Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek and Jesse Chavez stand out in that bunch -- who could work their way into a closer's role if Capps is dealt or if he struggles out of the gate next year. Having other capable late-inning options isn't a luxury the Pirates necessarily had going into this season.
"Those are guys that if Matt were to fail, we have guys who could step in and fill the closer role," Huntington said. "But relievers have bad years, and to pull the rip cord because he's had a bad year, might be a bit quick. The bullpen is the most difficult area of a ballclub to predict and to sustain."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.