Phillies Sign Papelbon Over Madson: The Stare Arrives in Philadelphia
Saturday November 12, 2011
MLB reports – Jonathan Hacohen: The Philadelphia Phillies seemingly fooled everyone this week. Earlier in the week, reports indicated that the team had locked up its incumbent closer, Ryan Madson for a 4-year, $44 million contract which could climb all the way up to a $57 million deal with an additional option year. Reactions were for the most part negative, as the baseball world could not believe that the team would pay (overpay) for a reliever coming off his first season as a full-time closer by handing out one of the largest contracts ever to a non-starting pitcher. At that money, people began to wonder why the Phillies did not seek out the best closer on the market and one of the best overall in the game, Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox closer, after endless 1-year pacts with Boston was in his first free agency period in 2011. But then something interesting happened. The Madson deal, which required the approval of the team’s higher brass all of a sudden was delayed and then fell apart. A couple of days later, Papelbon became a Philly! At 4-years and $50 million, Jonathan Papelbon finally received the long-term deal he has craved all of these years and Philadelphia signed a lock-down closer. But what happened? How did the Phillies switch to Papelbon mid-stream after coming so far along in negotiations with Madson?
The marketing term for what the Phillies did is called a “bait and switch”, meant when a retailer will advertise a discounted product and will then offer you a higher priced replacement when you arrive at the location to find that the advertised good has mysteriously sold out. Often, that discounted good was never actually available, but was a merely a ploy to get the consumer to first get to the store and secondly, buy a more expensive product. In the case of the Philadelphia Phillies, I do not believe that the team ever planned on signing Ryan Madson to the reported high-end contract. While being groomed to be a future for many seasons, the team was never completely sold on his true sustainability at the position. While Madson received the occasional closing opportunities in his 8-year career leading up to 2011, he actually converted only 20 saves going into this season. But something funny happened this season. Madson became solid. So solid, that he saved 32 games with a 2.37 ERA and 1.154 WHIP. With Scott Boras as his agent, the Phillies knew that Madson would not come cheap. But the Phillies faithful for the most part loved Madson and would mourn his departure. The Phillies needed to secure themselves at the closer position while softening the blow of not signing Ryan Madson. The team’s actions this week were a stroke of genius and the team played its cards perfectly.
The plan for 2011 was to have Brad Lidge close for 1 more season, with Ryan Madson as the set-up man and fill-in closer. In the offseason, the Phillies were going to target Jonathan Papelbon and sign him to a large pact. But Lidge was injured and ineffective in 2011, forcing the Phillies to use Madson as their primary closer for most of the season. The reliever that they were hoping to sign for a reasonable 3-years, $21-$24 million deals was about to cost them almost double to retain. But how could the team sign another reliever and let their incumbent closer go? Simple. Propose a deal with Ryan Madson and float the scenario out to the public to record and evaluate the reaction of the public. The possibility existed that the fans, writers and analysts would applaud the deal, in which case the Phillies could consider actually proceeding with it. But in all likelihood, the team knew that the outcry would be against the deal. By then pulling the Madson deal and reaching out to sign Papelbon, the approval rating would be through the roof. It is almost the same as proposing a 20% tax hike and then only increasing taxes by 5%. Throw out a worst-case scenario and set expectations low- then substitute a better plan and watch people jumping for joy.
The Phillies in my estimation used Ryan Madson as a pawn. While Scott Boras has been the master for years at playing teams against one another to benefit the pocketbook of his clients, the Phillies in this case used Boras and Madson to get what they wanted. If the Phillies had gone out right away at the start of free agency to sign Jonathan Papelbon, fans and critics would have blasted the team for overpaying and proposing that the team should have kept Ryan Madson at a hometown discount. The Phillies were able to eliminate such sentiments by showing that Madson would have cost them top dollar to stay put. At an additional $1.5 million per season for the same 4-year contract, the Phillies replaced a closer with 1 full year of closing experience with a closer (Papelbon) who is the same age (31), has 6 full years of full-time closing experience in one of baseball’s biggest and highest pressure markets (Boston) of 30+ saves per season, to go along with an almost perfect postseason resume. The Phillies traded in a solid Buick for a Mercedes, with still plenty of mileage to be driven.
For those of you that may doubt the “conspiracy theory”, just take a close look at the Phillies rotation. Since Spring Training, I have been calling for the Phillies to sign Papelbon. The team has shown to seek out the best pitchers on the market and bring them on board. Roy Halladay. Cliff Lee. Now Jonathan Papelbon. When the Phillies go shopping for pitching, they do not shop in the bargain bin. Aside from obtaining Mariano Rivera, the team signed the best available closer for their staff. So while Ryan Madson would have been a nice luxury to keep on the staff for insurance and to set-up, the team knew it would be seeking Jonathan Papelbon all the way. The plan would have worked to have both Papelbon and Madson on the team, had Madson not closed out so many games this past season. As a middle reliever setting-up, his contract would have been affordable. But an outstanding closing record in 2011 along with Scott Boras as his agent, meant that Madson was priced out of the Phillies budget. With Papelbon set to come on board, there would be no room for Madson.
The Phillies faithful have to be pleased today. While they will miss Ryan Madson, most will know that there was no guarantees he could duplicate his numbers over the life of a 4-5 year contract. At the numbers that were tabled for him to stay in Philadelphia, the team by all accounts did the right thing to sign the superior Papelbon. While he will cost the team its 2012 first-round pick, a pick should be recovered, along with a supplemental pick, when Madson is signed by another team. The cost/benefit of this move was essentially a no-brainer. The Phillies went with more of a sure-thing by signing Papelbon. While there are no guarantees in baseball, especially with pitchers (arm problems) and especially closers (who can lose their jobs at a moment’s notice), Jonathan Papelbon is as money in the bank as they come.
A couple of last points that helped trigger the change of closers. By continually signing 1-year deals in Boston, many expected Papelbon to bolt once he was eligible for free agency. The team could not lock the player down to a long-term deal and with the max-exodus of players during this past offseason, it seemed that Papelbon was another candidate to seek a change of scenery. But some people may not remember that not too long ago that Ryan Madson’s wife, Sarah, making negative comments on Phillies fans. At the time, it seemed like a ticket out-of-town for Madson, but his success this season seemingly made the comments disappear. Except that the Phillies brass did not forget and the publicity that surrounded the event at the time was one that likely set a chain reaction for the plan for Madson to leave at the end of the season. Baseball is a game of short-term memories, but not for all.
When I floated the idea of a Jonathan Papelbon signing all season long, Phillies fans did not have one positive comment back to me. Their fans, as well as most in baseball, had very negative things to say about Papelbon. Outside of Boston it seems, many were unable to or refused to recognize his talent. But while Papelbon was beloved in Boston until now, those sentiments will transfer over to Philadelphia by next season. The stare, as it is known, will become one of the most famed times in Philadelphia Phillies history as the team and its fans get revved up watching Jonathan Papelbon close out games for the next 4-seasons. There is a changing of the guard in Philadelphia. The Phillies have Halladay, Lee and Hamels to start things off and now can rely on Papelbon to close them out. The stare now makes its residence in the city of brotherly love. Another World Series may not be far behind.
Jonathan Hacohen is the Lead Baseball Columnist & Editor for MLB reports: You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)
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Posted on November 11, 2011, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged baseball, bell, boras, closer, halladay, hamels, lee, madson, mlb, nathan, papelbon, phillies, redsox, rivera, rodriguez, saves, worldseries, yankees. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.