Ryan Madson has had a successful career spent entirely with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Phillies signing of Jonathan Papelbon early in the offseason effectively ended that chapter of Madson’s career, but he entered the offseason as either the best or second-best available closer.
Unfortunately, best laid plans haven’t come to fruition, and it seems with each passing day that he will end up being the loser of the offseason: a very good player forced to sign for less than he would have had he hit free agency a year earlier or later.
Because so few remaining teams have both the need and payroll flexibility to give a multi-year deal to a closer, it’s looking like Madson’s first foray into free agency will result in his eventual employer getting a bargain.
With closer vacancies being filled by other means — teams signing other high-profile closers, using stopgap relievers or acquiring closers via trade — Madson and Francisco Cordero are the only two left on the free agent market. Cordero is older and less effective but has over three times the number of saves since the 2008 season. Some teams still place a premium on that number but Madson is the better overall pitcher in spite of that.
Since 2008, Madson has an 8.9 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 49% GB rate and a 2.86 ERA in line with his estimators. Cordero has a lower strikeout and groundball rate and a higher walk rate. His ERA is similarly low, but the estimators aren’t nearly as friendly. Madson basically embodies everything a team should seek in a late-inning relief role. He strikes batters out, exhibits great control, keeps the ball on the ground, and succeeds due to a devastating changeup, which won’t lose its effectiveness as quickly as a power fastball.
However, it’s not that hard to see Cordero signing a one-year deal somewhere quickly, leaving Madson alone on the market. Many teams are catching onto the idea that relievers are fickle performers, and that using someone like Octavio Dotel or Sergio Santos makes more sense than doling out the big bucks to someone “established.”
But Madson is still young, and has been very consistent over the past four years. He transformed from a potential non-tender candidate after the 2007 season into one of the best relievers in baseball over the past four seasons. But the market featured a glut of closers, and when teams creatively filled vacancies instead of negotiating with him, it became clear that he would probably be the odd man out.
First, Papelbon signed with the Phillies. Joe Nathan then signed with the Rangers. The Marlins brought Heath Bell in on a three-year deal. The Red Sox, a rumored suitor, traded for Mark Melancon, and then dealt for Andrew Bailey. The Blue Jays traded for Sergio Santos and the Mets signed Frank Francisco. Matt Capps returned to the Twins and the Tigers signed Octavio Dotel.
Suddenly, the Angels and Reds were left as the only two teams that would realistically consider a multi-year deal to either Madson or Cordero. With Jordan Walden in the fold the Angels lack a pressing need and might not have as much flexibility after signing Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And, given the increasingly prominent idea of getting good value out of a contract, if Cordero decides he’ll accept a one-year deal in the $6-$7 million range, won’t teams find that more appealing than 3/$27 or something of that ilk for Madson?
It’s too late now with the deadline having passed, but it may have made more sense for Madson to accept arbitration from the Phillies, serve as an $8 million setup man on a one-year deal, and hit the market next year. He would again be the cream of the crop, but far less competition would exist on the market and he would likely sign a deal more in line with his, and Scott Boras’s, expectations.
At this point, it would be prudent for he and Boras to regroup and potentially accept a lucrative one-year deal, instead of settling for three years and $21 million if they both think a 4/$40 could be signed next season. Then again, it’s entirely possible that Madson is underrated by the majority of baseball teams and his actual market value is far below his value perceived by fans, analysts and his inner circle.
Madson isn’t going to sign for anywhere near what he expected, but whoever signs him is going to make out like a bandit.