- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Washington Nationals were close to a deal with Matt Capps on Wednesday night, trying to finale terms on a one-year contract with the free agent reliever after he turned down a standing offer from the Chicago Cubs, baseball sources said.

Negotiations still weren’t completed by night’s end, but if signed, the 26-year-old right-hander would immediately become the Nationals’ closer for 2010, a key selling point in his negotiations with both finalists for his services.

Washington general manager Mike Rizzo was hopeful all along of landing Capps, who saved 66 games for the Pirates the past three seasons but was surprisingly nontendered earlier this month because the sides couldn’t come to terms on a contract and Pittsburgh was worried he would be awarded too much through arbitration. He made $2.425 million in 2009.

Rizzo added another relief reinforcement this week, signing veteran lefty Eddie Guardado to a one-year, nonguaranteed contract. The 38-year-old went 1-2 with a 4.46 ERA last season with Texas. For Washington, he’ll be asked to serve as a setup man and left-handed specialist.

More than a dozen teams inquired to Capps’ agent, Paul Kinzer, in the past two weeks, and Capps narrowed the field to Washington and Chicago, saying he would make a final decision late Wednesday night. Sources familiar with the negotiations said the Cubs determined earlier in the evening that they were out of the running, paving the way for a deal with the Nationals.

Terms of the proposed contract were not immediately known, but the decision was based as much on pitching role as it was on money. Washington was offering Capps a chance to be the closer, albeit for a club coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons. Chicago was offering him a chance to serve as the setup man to Carlos Marmol on a club built to contend for a division title.

The Nationals offered Capps a two-year contract, according to baseball sources, but the reliever actually preferred a one-year deal. He’ll still be arbitration-eligible in 2011 and could wind up commanding a much larger salary if he posts solid numbers this season after struggling in 2009. He went 4-8 with a 5.80 ERA and blew five of 32 save opportunities.

Washington had been in search of some additional bullpen help after nontendering Mike MacDougal at the Dec. 12 deadline.

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