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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About Jonathan Hacohen

I practice daily yoga. Most foods are organic. If you catch me in the supermarket, it will be in the produce aisle. Warrior 1 Yoga was born from my wish to help people be healthy and happy. I preach the 4 key's to life: nutrition, exercise, water and sleep. This is my journey - I am hope to meet you along the way to share a similar path!

Posted on November 11, 2011, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. good article, made me feel alot better about the move.

    • Thank you kindly for your comments Steve. People might get blown away by the dollars and years given to Papelbon and be weary of “overspending” on a closer. But when the deal is put into context, it should work out well for both sides.

  2. Die-hard phillie fan here. I absolutely despised this deal until reading this piece. Now i only hate it. Thanks. BTW, hes a phillie, not a philly. It matters to us.

    • I will make the change, as several readers noted this point. I use both spellings, but will respect the Phillie fanbase. Thank you for your message and for reading the Reports! I am glad that I was able to help you see the light on Papelbon. Enjoy the stare

  3. The bulk of your reasoning is fairly accurate, I think; however, to believe that the Phillies and Amaro actually wanted to take the pulse of the industry and their fanbase and see how people reacted to the Madson offer just doesn’t fit. For one, any smart franchise makes moves that they believe are beneficial to the club, regardless of what the initial reaction of the fans would be. Second, have you see much of Ruben? He doesn’t care what anyone thinks about his decisions. He’s got conviction and brass nuts and does what he thinks is right, regardless of the perception of any anyone outside the organization.

    The single entity is “Phillie” not “Philly.”

    “Laud” means to praise or to give high acclaim.

    • Great writing Zachary…you should apply to appear on the Reports!!!!

      I get the same sense on Amaro…but…a consideration. The team has now failed two years in a row, despite their high level of talent. Amaro wants to save face, and his job. The move with Papelbon was planned from day one, but he had to handle the Madson situation just right. I am pleased with how things worked out for the PHILLIES- Amaro knows what he is doing. Thank you for the comment!

  4. Despite my love of Mad Dog, I’ve been ok with this deal. However, I’ve had a hard time putting in to words why I’m ok with it. Assume that I will be using this article as Exhibit A in my case of City of Philadelphia v. Papelbon. Thanks!

    • If Papelbon does not pan out, the biggest scapegoats will be Amaro and myself. I am firmly behind this signing and see only good things happening. Please fee free to use me as an expert-witness at the trial: Paps will win! Thank you for the comment, and laugh

  5. Eugene in Oregon

    If you’re right, then the Phillies have potentially taken themselves out of the running for any more Scott Boras clients for at least two or three seasons. That may not be a bad thing, but I’m not sure it’s a smart thing.

    • If Amaro opens his wallet, Scott Boras will never say no. Boras had a blow-up with the Yankees over A-Rod and the team still signed Teixeira. IF you think for a second Scott Boras will turn down the biggest contract for a player over “pride”…then you do not give the man and his legacy enough credit.

  6. Totally disagree. And who are your “Phillie Phaithful”…? Ryan Madson should have remained a Phillie-period. You can run numbers many different ways all you want, and throw money away like its candy, but at some point you must recognize that heart and integrity do play a role in a winning teams positive attitude and rate of success. Ryan Madson was at the core of this elite Philadelphia team’s strongly admired cohesiveness. The energy this group of guys play together with is much desired and envied through out both leagues. It remains unmatched. Losing Ryan Madson WILL effect this team. And if Jimmy isn’t signed – there is not a chance this Phillies team (the first in its history that should have been a report WSC) will excel any further regardless of the pitching rotation. Lastly, it should just as easily be noted that while Johnathan Papelbon has more experience closing – his arm to me is far more “used” and likely to become disabled. Ryan Madson has only just begun to shine. Being with the Phillie organization since 1998, he proved enuf & deserved that opportunity/that contract. This mistake will prove ill for the Phillies – mark my words. And Ryan Madson will emerge the winner.

    • Thank you for the comment. You clearly love your Phillies and are a passionate fan. I totally respect that and applaud your enthusiasm. Because you are such a dedicated fan, I hate to do this to you…but here are the points I will throw out:

      Let us compare Ryan Madson and Jonathan Papelbon.

      -Both are 31 years of age.
      -Madson has played 9 seasons in MLB. Papelbon only 7.
      -Madson: 491 games. 630 innings. 52 career saves,
      -Papelbon: 396 games. 429 1/3 innings. 219 career saves.

      But I will be do better. Let’s include the minors.

      -Papelbon in minors: 2003-2005: 58 games, 48 of which were starts. 277 innings.
      -Madson in minors: has pitched over 10 seasons: 1998-2011: 134 games, 123 of which were starts. 743 innings pitched.

      So which arm has more wear and tear? Madson has pitched in almost 100 more major league games, 200 more innings, plus 76 more games in the minors and 466 more innings in the minors. Still think the Phillies are dumb? The Phillies got a proven closer who has been a closer for 7 seasons instead of 1 season. They got the pitcher with far more wear and tear. Madson has many more miles on his arm than you may realize. If I had to predict a breakdown, it would be Madson. He has been pitching for longer and is not as established as Papelbon closing.

      As far as losing Jimmy Rollins, another topic for another day. But I will say this, for a 33-year old shortstop on the decline, a big contract would be a huge mistake. Phillies fans are already yelling about Ibanez and even Howard’s pacts. If Rollins signs 3-5 years for $60-$80 million, mark MY words: they will be eating him alive in Philadelphia by year 2 of the deal. When his D starts to go and his OBP bottoms under .300 with 10-12 home runs, the screams will be loud in the City of Brotherly Love. I am very curious how Amaro will handle this one. I agree that Rollins should come back- but it will be on a deal that benefits the player and team. But if he does go, I do not discount the team’s World Series hopes much, if any.

  7. OOPS! Meant REPEAT in above comment:

    “the first in its history that should have been a REPEAT World Series Champion…”

    Hate it when that happens.

  8. Philly fans like myself at first didnt like the signing of a 50 million dollar closer, but the fact of the matter is we got the best one, and its always nice having the best!
    People who dont think a closer is worth it needs to remember the Brad Lidge of 2010 verses The Brad Lidge of 2008.

    • Jim. That is one of my points as well. When you see Brad Lidge at his worst, all you can do is pray and hope for a top closer. The Phillies could not mess around blowing games in the 9th. They could have paid less and taken a risk or go for a more certain product. Papelbon is tried, tested and true. For Phillies fans who also lived through Mitch Williams (I’m sorry to bring it up, but people are giving me no choice on this one)- is Papelbon not relief? Imagine if Papelbon had been pitching against Joe Carter instead of “Wild Thing”……

  9. I do believe you are altogether right on your analysis. You are the only one to see it this way – which I find peculiar because for once Boras got back what he regularly dishes out. I am shocked that more writers haven’t commented on that fact in the context of the bait and switch. While most fans are still spending time ridiculing GM RAJ as paying Ryan Howard too much money – it goes on and on – I don’t think for a minute a Stanford education got in the way of him figuring out how to get the “known” quantity on board in the pen. There will be frequent ravings by sabermetricians about Madson’s ground ball tendencies vs. Papelbon’s fly ball tendencies in home run oriented Citizens Bank Park (less true any more) but that is only a chimera of what RAJ was trying to do. If you pay 50 MM for a closer, you had better make sure he is a true died in the wool closer ! Good job and great explanation !!! Kudos.

    • Thank you GL. The cheque is in the mail! But in all seriousness, I am shocked and surprised that this issue has not been discussed further in baseball circles. But people are funny. They are resistant to change and for some reason take much of what is said out there on face value. For those that read me regularly, you will know that I said Papelbon was going to the Phillies a year ago. I said that there would be balanced divisions in baseball that would lead to regular interleague play. I called for adding more wild card teams. I call it the crystal ball, but it is really just a gut feel (and talking with the right people in the industry).

      Many many many people dislike Jonathan Papelbon. It is a fact. When I talked all year about signing with the Phillies, people were literally cursing and yelling. But I said it before and will say it today: as soon as he would sign, the majority of fans would be happy. And why wouldn’t they be? The Phillies for similar money to Madson got one of the best closers in the game. It was a no brainer in my book. Amaro may not have set out to “play” Boras, but he definitely used him. He took a page of the Boras book and played him like a fiddle. While some may rip any big free agent deals, especially for closers, it is important to look at it in context. The Phillies have a huge payroll and one of the best pitching staffs in major league history. A top-notch closer is a must. Thank you for the comment and for reading!!!!

  10. Sorry, but: no.

    If you really think the Phillies based their Madson decision on the reaction of the fans, writers, and analysts, then why not just get rid of Ruben Amaro and make all your personnel decisions that way? If Sal from South Philly calls in to Angelo Cataldi and suggests a trade, then by god you go out and make that trade.

    Your analogy that the Papelbon signing is like a 5% tax increase is apt, since it is kind of a crappy signing but not the end of the world. But what kind of idiot evaluates the deal based on a comparison to a non-existent deal with Madson? By that logic, just float a rumor that we offered $50 million a year for Raul Ibanez. Then any move you make will look genius by comparison.

    • Eddie! Thank you for writing in. I love to hear different thoughts and views. Makes for interesting debates.

      I respect your opinion on this one- but I think you are not giving teams enough credit. They do not base decisions on the reactions of fans, writers and analysts solely. But lets face it, they do play some part. If there is an overwhelming response positively or negatively, teams do consider it. They do. And they should. Fans pay the bills and many actually have intelligent things to say. It is a very small part of the consideration, if any. But that was not the essence of my point. I was trying to say that the Phillies picked Papelbon- period. They floated the Madson proposal to more test the waters on signing a closer for big bucks and threw Madson under the bus as a guinea pig. When people were outraged, it actually made for signing Papelbon easier. The team and Amaro knew exactly what they were doing. It was a calculated move. If fans had held a parade to celebrate Madson, it likely still would not have had much effect. Papelbon was always the target. But creating an expectation and then switching the players was a brilliant move. Let’s give credit where it is due.

  11. Didn’t know how to reply to ur reply above, sorry-so puttin it down here… First off, thank you for your response – very cool.

    Second, I’m a punk and ur reply totally just rocked my world. Thanks for being polite about it, and thanks for the stats update. Wow-was I off…

    The only thing I still say tho is, I stand by Madson. I really think he is gonna blow up where ever he lands. May just be my gut feeling, but I believe. Hope I’m not punked on that one…!

  1. Pingback: Baseball Blogs Weigh In: Reyes, Kemp, Realignment | Forex News

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