After signing a one-year, $8.5 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds, Ryan Madson may be the bargain of the free agent class. Clearly, Madson and his agent, Scott Boras, came into the offseason believing that he would get a multi-year deal for more than what he received from Cincinnati. There's a lot of confusion though over just what he could have had if he had re-signed with the Phillies early in the process.
The most reliable reports suggest that the Phillies were looking at giving Madson a three-year, $30 million deal. At least it's thought that was their opening bid and it's likely that they might have gone a little higher on the financial side of the ledger, but not on the number of years. It's unclear whether an actual offer was ever made by the Phillies, but certainly, everything points to the Phillies being willing to make that sort of deal with Madson, who had grown up in the organization and developed into a quality closer last season. Whether an actual offer was ever made, Boras - and assumedly, Madson - believed they could get that fourth guaranteed year and possibly get a better financial number if they got other teams interested in Madson's services.
That's where everything goes weird.
There are different theories on what happened next. It's possible that the memory of the whole J.D. Drew debacle years ago raised its ugly head and the Phillies decided to try to make Boras look bad by quickly focusing all attention on Jonathan Papelbon and not only giving him more per season, but adding that golden fourth year to their official offer to the Boston right-hander. Papelbon quickly accepted and officially signed his deal with the Phillies on November 14th and Madson was quickly looking more and more like an ex-Phillie. But the number of teams looking for a closer was still pretty high, so it figured that Madson might come out ahead and that Boras would be able to use Papelbon's deal with the Phillies to get a four-year deal for his client. Besides, the Red Sox had just officially lost their closer, so Boston was a perfect place to turn to.
Suddenly though, everything went weird. Heath Bell signed with the Miami Marlins on December 5th, getting a three-year, $27 million deal with the revamped franchise. Some believed that Bell might have been able to get more money and possibly even that fourth year, since Papelbon had basically set the bar for the closer's market, but Bell perhaps read the market better than did Madson and Boras and grabbed what the Marlins were willing to give. Even still, things looked pretty good for Madson and he figured to get something between the two deals from somebody and Boston still seemed to be the best option. A little more than a week after Bell signed though, another twist entered the market when Boston found their closer through a deal with the Houston Astros that brought Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie and pitching prospect Kyle Weiland.
Boston's move shrank the market, but it was thought there would still be a good long-term deal to be had for Madson. The Anaheim Angels were mentioned, the Texas Rangers were mentioned and it was easy to envision a bidding war between the two American League West rivals to get the best remaining closer on the market, even though both teams had other options in-house. Turned out that the Rangers and Angels were basically just rattling their sabers to be sure the other one didn't get too close to Madson and suddenly, the bottom dropped out of Madson's market.
It should be mentioned that as Bell was signing with Miami, Madson had one remaining shot at coming back to the Phillies; accept arbitration. Had Madson accepted arbitration, he would have gotten at least a one-year deal with the Phillies and possibly more had he been willing to sign long-term and return to being a set-up man, and it's likely he would have received a hefty raise above his $4.5 million salary for 2011, possibly in the neighborhood of the $8.5 million he received from Cincinnati. One advantage of getting the deal with the Reds rather than accepting arbitration is that Madson will have the chance to close in Cincinnati and perhaps put himself back in the elite class of free agent closers after the 2012 season, while he would have been a set-up man in Philadelphia with rare opportunities to close.
In the end, you have to believe that there is either continuing animosity between Boras and the Phillies or that the Madson situation may have reignited some hostilities between the two sides. When Madson signed his last deal with the Phillies in 2009, he took what some thought was a low deal to stay in Philadelphia and signed for $12 million over three years. At the time, he said that he was happy in Philadelphia and felt comfortable in his set-up role. He also stressed that perhaps down the road, he would like to be a closer, but that was down the road. Well, Madson and the Phillies traveled that road and it didn't really end well for either side. Of course, the Phillies did end up with a quality closer in Papelbon and the final chapter in Madson's quest for a sizable long-term deal hasn't been written. We'll have to see what the next offseason and Madson's next foray into free agency brings to him financially before we can close the book on whether or not Madson made out well by making the decisions that he did.