Baseball’s highest-paid closer earns $15 million per year.
The game’s best-rewarded setup man is making $10 million this year, but his contract is scheduled to pay him $25 million over the next two seasons (if he doesn’t opt out), bringing the annual value of the deal to just under $12 million per season.
The Phillies are paying Brad Lidge $11.5 million this season after paying him $12 million each of the previous two seasons, expecting him to be their closer through the life of the three-year extension he signed during his 2008 season of perfection that led the Phillies to the World Series championship.
As important as Lidge was to that championship, the work of Ryan Madson during and since cannot be disputed. At some point in the 2008 season it seemed as if Madson finally figured it out and became a lockdown eighth-inning reliever, the “bridge to Lidge,” as it’s been said.
Other than a few unsuccessful attempts to move into the ninth-inning role while Lidge was unavailable, Madson has been the Phillies' best reliever since mid 2008. He might be the best reliever in the National League period, although I’m sure some fans in San Francisco could justify a case for their hotshot closer.
At the start of the 2011 season the Phillies front office and manager declared Ryan Madson unfit to close and named journeyman Jose Contreras as their closer. This move was puzzling, especially considering Madson’s spring and contract situation.
He pitched well in spring training, and logic would tell most Phillies fans that with Lidge opening the season on the disabled list, Madson would enter the season as the closer, especially since it might be the Phillies' last chance to test out whether or not Madson can actually close in the major leagues before he enters free agency following the 2011 season.
Ryan Madson is earning $4.5 million this season, less than half all the pitchers mentioned above are, save Contreras. The three-year, $12 million contract he inked late in 2008 is coming to an end, and he’s set to test the free agent market this coming winter. But what will the market bear? Were the Phillies intentionally attempting to keep Madson tucked away in the eighth inning to keep down his potential salary demands? With Scott Boras representing him, it’s unlikely it would have worked anyhow.
No one is going to mistake Madson’s body of work for that of Mariano Rivera, perhaps the greatest reliever the game has ever seen. Therefore Madson does not deserve to be compensated on the same level Rivera is and has been. However, closers are better compensated than eighth-inning men, so therefore he has a right to ask for a contract of at least as much as Rafael Soriano makes, putting his salary demands in the range of $12 million to $15 million per season.
But how many teams would be willing—much less able—to pay closer-type money to an eighth-inning reliever? Not many, and the Phillies probably aren’t one of them with their already bloated payroll.
Ryan Madson has been a sensation this year. After getting off to a strong start as the setup man and then moving into the closer's role, he has been lights-out dominant. Off to the best start of his career, Madson can begin counting the millions he will inevitably get once free agency starts—unless, of course, the Phillies can lock him up before then. (Which, of course, is unlikely considering his representation.)
The list of potential closers on the market this offseason is strong. Along with Madson and Lidge, both of whom will be free agents (barring a stunningly foolish move of the Phillies picking up Lidge’s option for 2012), and Soriano, who can forgo the remaining two years on his deal, the free agent market will be flooded with big names. Guys like Jonathan Papelbon, Joe Nathan, Matt Capps, Francisco Cordero and Heath Bell can become free agents.
It’s likely the Phillies will be able to replace Madson with another proven ninth-inning man if they let him leave, but would it be the correct move? Madson undoubtedly will earn more than some names on the list. No team will pay Nathan what they will pay Madson as this point, who will be one of the better-paid free-agent closers in the offseason.
However, in the same breath, pitchers like Papelbon or Bell would be suitable replacements at similar costs, but each comes with his pluses and minuses.
Papelbon has been as dominant a reliever in the American League at times as anyone not named Mariano Rivera. However, there have been questions about his long-term effectiveness and whether or not he’s lost some zip on his stuff. Add in the fact that he’s been nearly impossible to deal with for the Red Sox front office and taken them to arbitration nearly every year, and I don’t see him as a fit for the Phillies' style.
Heath Bell would be fun to have. He’s been closing for three years in San Diego and doing it well—and he HATES the Mets. Who better to have closing games than the one player in baseball who despises your team's biggest doormat more than the fans themselves? But he’s also three years older than Madson, and the NL East is a tougher division than the West.
After the 2011 season the Phillies will have a lot of questions. Coming off the payroll will be Raul Ibanez, Jimmy Rollins, Lidge and potentially Roy Oswalt. It may seem like the Phillies will have a lot of money to play with, but Cliff Lee’s contract nearly doubles next year, Cole Hamels is in his final arbitration eligible year (another player they may need to lock up long-term) and there is no replacement for Jimmy Rollins in-house. Do they keep Rollins or, with their endlessly floundering offense, sign a replacement like Jose Reyes who will command big dollars?
Either way, the Phillies payroll will be stretched to its max again next year, and that means paying a top closer is going to be difficult. Any possible replacement they sign to supplement Madson who is going to be just as good will cost just as much. At this point it’s better to guarantee the money to the one who fits into your clubhouse, has proven himself in your city and has that flashy piece of jewelry he earned while pitching here.
Ryan Madson will not come cheap—especially with the way he’s been pitching this season—but four years and $52 million sounds fair for both sides. And why wait for the offseason, when another closer could ink a deal that ups the market for closers? The Phillies know what they have in Madson...get the deal done.