The Philadelphia Phillies enter the offseason with their focus primarily on adding a center fielder, third baseman and corner outfielder. However, adding a proven, right-handed reliever is just as important for improving the team for next season.
The Phillies used 19 different pitchers in a relief role this season, finishing with a combined ERA of 3.94. Among right-handed pitchers who pitched in at least 15 games in relief, only Jonathan Papelbon and Phillippe Aumont had ERAs under 4.00.
It’s reasonable to think that the Phils’ bullpen will be improved next season simply because the young pitchers that make it up, such as Aumont, Jake Diekman, Justin De Fratus, Jeremy Horst and Josh Lindblom, will have another year of experience under their belt.
But that’s still a big assumption to make following a season in which the bullpen gave up 183 earned runs in 157 games played.
Having so many young pieces in place could cause the team to shy away from paying a reliever such as Mike Adams upwards of $5 million a season for three years, if not more following Brandon League’s three-year, $22.5 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. It could be difficult to give any veteran reliever a lengthy deal with so many young pitchers already on the roster.
Ideally, the Phillies could be looking to sign a veteran reliever to a one-year deal to give the team’s younger relievers more time to fully adapt to the big league level.
Ironically, a pitcher that the Phillies chose not to re-sign last offseason may be a candidate for filling such a role this offseason.
Ryan Madson signed with the Cincinnati Reds last offseason on a one-year, $8.5 million deal that also had a mutual option for 2013. As Jon Heyman on CBSSports.com recently wrote, Madson has declined his portion of the option, making him a free agent for the second straight year.
Heyman’s article also mentions two other points. One, the Phillies are thought to have interest in Madson and, two, the 32-year-old will be looking to fill a closer’s role this offseason.
While it’s uncertain whether the Phillies truly have interest in Madson, or have even contacted him since the start of free agency, what’s more certain is that Madson and the Phils could be an ideal fit for at least next season.
One of the Phillies’ biggest weaknesses this season was their lack of an eighth-inning setup pitcher to transition the game into Papelbon’s hands for the ninth inning.
Antonio Bastardo saw his ERA increase to 4.33, making his 2011 ERA of 2.64 the only time in his major league career that he has had an ERA under 4.30. Lindblom, acquired in the trade that sent Shane Victorino to the Dodgers, had an ERA of 3.55, including a 5.68 ERA in August. Aumont looked great at times, but his 3.68 ERA and 14 strikeouts to nine walks in 18 games likely isn’t enough to pencil him in as the setup guy just yet.
Madson, on the other hand, thrived as the Phillies’ setup reliever while with the team from 2002-2009. Of course, Madson pitched in every type of role while with the Phils, from starter, to setup reliever, to closer during the 2011 season.
The Phillies decided to sign Papelbon to be the team’s closer last offseason rather than pay Madson closer money in a long-term deal. It wasn’t until late in the offseason that the Reds eventually signed him to be their closer and moved Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation.
There are likely two reasons why Madson remained a free agent for so long: he was looking for closer money and he is represented by Scott Boras. Yes, Madson saved 32 games in 34 chances in 2011 with the Phillies, but prior to that he only had one season in which he had more successfully converted saves than blown saves.
Entering 2011, Madson had 20 career saves to go with 26 career blown saves.
With Boras looking for closer money for a pitcher with only one successful season as closer under his belt, Madson spent a great deal of time as a free agent.
Which team will be willing to give Madson a closer’s job this offseason after the pitcher missed all of this season following Tommy John surgery?
Ryan Lawrence on philly.com raises the following question: Why not sign with the Phillies on a one-year deal, the same amount of years that other teams are likely to offer, to return as the Phils’ setup reliever and re-establish himself?
The Phillies need a right-handed reliever who can set up and take over the eighth-inning role.
With so many young relievers having potential to fill out the bullpen over the next few seasons, the Phillies could be looking for a reliever who will sign on a short-term deal, giving the younger relievers another season to adjust while not having to pitch in high pressure situations.
Paying a pitcher coming off injury to a one-year deal as opposed to signing an older veteran to a three-year deal influenced by League’s new contract could save the Phillies close to $20 million in total.
Madson, meanwhile, could prove his dominance once again in the eighth inning, and likely pick up around five to 10 saves on the season if the Phils have pitched Papelbon on consecutive days.
Signing Madson to a one-year deal worth $6 or $7 million would save the Phils payroll room in the two years to follow if they had instead decided to sign someone to a three-year deal, and it would allow them to focus even more so on improving the offense this offseason.
It would also solidify the team’s bullpen without locking too much money up long-term on relievers, and still give the younger pitchers a chance to cement their relief roles going forward.
As for Madson, the opportunity to prove himself again while setting himself up to finally sign a long-term deal as a closer would be available by joining the Phillies.
Madson doesn’t need to settle for a setup role, and the Phillies don’t need to place a great deal of focus on the bullpen when the offense has holes. But if they do talk this offseason, they could find that a contract agreement is beneficial for both sides.