When the Phillies’ season began with Brade Lidge on the disabled list, many fans were left scratching their heads with the announcement that Jose Contreras, not Ryan Madson, would be taking the ball in the ninth inning and handling closing duties. The reason Charlie Manual and Ruben Amaro gave was that Madson had been given a fair chance to close and proved he was not up to the task, so the eighth inning suited him best.
I’m sorry, but I don’t buy that, not the reason nor that it’s true. Madson has failed to convert a good percentage of the save opportunities he’s been given, but it’s not as if he’s been given all that many opportunities. The only way you go with Contreras to be your closer is if you are 100 percent sure that Ryan Madson will never close effectively in the major leagues. If there was any question–which I believe there is–than Madson would have begun the season as the team’s closer. Worst case scenario, he proves them right, blows a few saves in April and goes back to the eighth inning role he has flourished in for several seasons . While it’s possible that a team can lose a pennant in April (but not win one) no matter how poorly they left April, the Phillies were not going to be out of contention.
So it begs the question, why was Madson passed over? And who made the decision?
My feelings are that the choice to promote Contreras over Madson was a decision made upstairs, perhaps even above Amaro’s head and that it was financial. Charlie Manual, by his own admission, manages by his gut and has never shown reluctance to bring Madson in in a tough spot. He’s been the Phillies best reliever for several years and most in the organization should hope he’s here many more years.
However, Ryan Madson having another good year as a setup man sets his asking price at one level, and Ryan Madson having a good season as a closer on a dominant team sets his asking price much higher–especially with Scott Boras representing him. Heath Bell will probably be the No. 1 closer on the market next year, but if Madson has a good season as closer, he might jump ahead of him, considering his nasty stuffy (which is slightly better than Bell’s, thanks to his changeup) and the fact that he’s three years younger.
With tens of millions of dollars commented to the likes of Cliff Lee, Ryan Howard, Roy Halladay and Chase Utley over the next several seasons, it would not be totally unwise to try to limit the amount of dollars Madson could theoretically ask for by limiting his role. Rafael Soriano signed a three-year, $35 million dollar contract to be a setup man with the Yankees. But no other team is going to be willing to spend that much on an eighth inning guy. As a closer, Madson could command at least that–and probably a lot more–on the open market.
Three years ago, Francisco Rodriguez received a contract in the same neighborhood (three-years, $37.5 million) from the Mets. While he was coming off a record-setting saves season, many scouts and baseball executives agreed that Rodriguez had lost some zip on his fastball and bite on his breaking ball and was not the same pitcher who helped the Angels win the World Series nearly a decade before. While three years and $35 million would be striking gold for a setup man, it would only be the starting place in negotiations for an elite closer.
Ryan Madson is the best option to close for the Phillies–now and in the future. He’s got the stuff, demeanor and experience for the Phillies to take a chance on him now. However, I doubt they will use him, no matter how well he does filling in for the injured Jose Contreras or Brad Lidge. The Phillies will go back to them once they are healthy in hopes to save a few dollars in the future.
It's not a bad business decision, but it's not a good baseball one. And if someone wants to pay Ryan Madson to close next year without seeing a significant sample, then so be it. The Phillies could exercise Brad Lidge’s $12.5 million option or just hand the closing duties to Jose Contreras again, who’s signed for $3 million (including his buyout).