On Tuesday, Tim Brown of Yahoo! Sports, tweeted the Philadelphia Phillies had come to an agreement with Ryan Madson on a 4-year/$44 million contract with an option for a 5th year at $13 million. Yesterday, Jon Heyman reported via Twitter, the same 4-year deal but that the contract still needed approval from Phillies President and CEO David Montgomery. Ruben Amaro Jr., the Phillies general manager certainly believed he had authority to offer contracts as he sees fit? Madson and his agent Scott Boras also felt this was the case. Ownership is showing otherwise.
The problem Phillies ownership may have with the deal is that there are two prominent and much more experienced closers on the market, Jonathan Papelbon and Heath Bell. Their experience, success and previous pay scale actually better fit the contract terms offered to Madson. Ownership may be asking Amaro where discussions went with these two players before they sign off on the Madson deal.
There is much debate over whether closers should be offered this sum of money and lengthy contracts. In my opinion, even Papelbon and Bell should not receive four-year deals. Closers come and go. The fluctuation of the position is very volatile. We see it every year when a closer is hurt or under performing. On comes the next guy in line and he runs away with the role.
While I do not agree with the contract length, let’s say that the dollar amount per season is representative of their worth. How do the three players stack up against each other? The tables below represent the last three seasons for each player.
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
The number of saves is irrelevant. There are too many factors in play which determine the number of save chances a player receives. It is safe to say closers are expected to suppress or limit damage when they enter the game. As such, the best closers strike out a lot of hitters, exhibit very good control and do not allow home runs. For the most part each of these players has shown this ability druing their careers.
The tables tell us a few things. Papelbon has the most experience closing games. Throughout his career Papelbon has a far superior WHIP, allowed the least home runs allowed per nine and has the highest SO/9 and SO/BB ratios. Papelbon maintains these numbers even with a major hiccup season in 2010.
Further, the tables tell us that something could be wrong with Bell based on his performance in 2011. His SO/9 ratio fell way off and he gave up more home runs. Bell is also 33 years old. Madson, in his only season as a full-time closer had very respectable numbers, but at 30 years old won't get better. He has thrown just over 200 more innings than Papelbon and 148 more than Bell.
The Phillies have created issues if they decide to change direction. They have already established they would give a four-year contract to a player who has one year of closing experience and more miles on his arm. Papelbon is going to want at least $12 million, if not $13.5 million or $14 million per season based on his 2011 salary. A smart GM would bring up the 2010 season as cautionary and possibly keep the salary on the lower end of the scale. Bell would probably have to be satisfied with a similar deal offered to Madson considering his age and evident drop-off last season. Prior to the offer made to Madson, I don't think Bell would have gotten more than $10 million per season.
Amaro, in an effort to solidify a priority jumped the gun on Madson's deal in terms of salary and length. He could have offered Madson a three-year $27 million dollar deal. This would have almost doubled Madson's annual salary and shown faith in the player. Such a deal equates to $14 million less than the total Madson was offered, not including the option year. What if ownership believes Amaro's estimate on Madson is sound, but would rather have Papelbon? They are looking at a $48-$56 million contract over the same duration. Either way, the Phillies overpay and over commit. Sometimes it is best to let the market come to you versus create the market too quickly. Ruben Amaro Jr. may have learned that lesson the hard way.