Truth of the matter is that Madson should be very close to being on the "Do Not Touch" list, if not written on the list in indelible ink.
Look at the state of the Phillies rotation. It certainly appears that Kevin Millwood is a goner. Scott Boras is going to make Millwood out to be the greatest pitcher on the market, covering any conceivable blemish with a spin tighter than any of Millwood's pitches. That pushes up the price and while the Phillies have been more willing to write larger checks, they're not going to overpay for a guy who by some accounts let them down when the going got tough. Next, you have Randy Wolf, Vicente Padilla and Brett Myers. Wolf is pushing hard and strong toward being the ace of the staff, but isn't quite there. He is what Kevin Millwood was a year ago; a guy who seemed ready to make the leap to number one starter, but brought with him some concerns about his readiness to make the jump. Vicente Padilla is probably a year behind Wolf in development and still has some maturing to do before he could be counted on as an opening day type pitcher. Myers is young and impressionable. He should stick as the number four man in the rotation until he gets a few more miles under his belt. As for the fifth spot in the rotation, that's anyone's guess. Brandon Duckworth? Not really reliable and he took a step backward in 2003. Amaury Telemaco? Okay, let's get serious. He was better than anyone really figured he would be last season, but most of that was against AAA hitters.
If you figure Millwood to be gone and the fifth spot in the rotation to be a choice of two relatively weak pitchers, that means that a full forty-percent of the starting rotation is missing in action. The Phillies need to shore up one of those spots and to do it now.
Ryan Madson has been a true success story throughout the minor leagues. Madson's first two professional seasons weren't exactly stellar. In 25 starts, Madson was 8-8, 4.76 and his walks to strikeouts ration was average at best. Since then, Madson has put it together and in his last four minor league seasons, has gone 51-26, 3.28 as he has made his way up the minor league ladder. Madson's control has become near pin-point and has been a main reason for his success. Madson's minor league numbers compare very closely with those of Duckworth. From 1998 through the 2001 season, Duckworth went 52-24, 3.38 in the Phillies minor league system. One major difference is that those seasons were Duckworth's entire minor league career, while Madson has moved at a slower pace through the system.
The Phillies were willing to give Duckworth 29 starts in 2002 after four seasons in the minors. They should feel very comfortable giving Madson the fifth spot in the rotation, considering his numbers through the minor league system. As for Telemaco, he could become some insurance or could possibly work out of the bullpen as a long reliever, but again, Madson should clearly be the choice.
Writing Madson into the fifth spot would allow the Phillies to check off one part of their offseason question mark list. The problem is that the Phillies will definitely be asked to part with Madson to complete deals for Troy Percival, Billy Wagner or possibly, Curt Schilling or Javier Vazquez this winter. The Phillies need to say no.
With the strength of the Phillies minor league system, they can afford to put others in place of Madson. Perhaps, even offering a team two lesser players instead of Madson. Brandon Duckworth and Eric Junge or Josh Hancock for instance would be a package that the Phillies could substitute for Madson and not disrupt their minor league system too greatly. Plus, those pitchers would all be in a position to help a team in the immediate future, as would Madson.
Remember too, that Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels are at least a couple seasons away unless the Phillies allow them to make giant jumps through the minors to rush their major league debut dates. That's unlikely to say the least.
Actually, the Phillies might have done better to put Madson into the fifth spot in the rotation this past September. In hindsight, he would have probably been at least as good as the Duckworth and Telemaco tandem and might have surprised enough people to help the Phillies into the postseason. Major League experience is always important and Duckworth and Telemaco had that going for them, but Madson might have simply been the better pitcher.
Ed Wade gets low marks for being a trading genius. With the exception of a few key deals – Kevin Stocker for Bobby Abreu – Wade has not done well on the trading block. When teams ask about Floyd or Hamels they will be told "no". The response should then be "and don't ask about Ryan Madson, either."
If Wade's insistance on not giving up Madson costs them a key trade, so be it. The Phillies should be able to find a closer through free agency since there are a number of them out there. As for a starter, Wade has already said that he believes the Phillies can simply pursue a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher instead of looking for the big money kind of guy. While arguments can – and will – be made about that plan, there are always some pretty decent innings eaters that will be available as free agents. Ismael Valdes comes quickly to mind.
The Phillies are in a position to make use of their farm system. Some, like Marlon Byrd, are able to help the Phillies at the major league level, while others may be most useful as trade bait. The Phillies will need to know the difference in the coming months. They will need to stick to their guns at times when the deal truly doesn't work for them. Dealing any of the top three pitching prospects would be a mistake. With young pitchers like Wolf, Padilla and Myers already at the major league level and Madson, Floyd and Hamels climbing the ladder, the Phillies should stay strong in one of the more important parts of baseball; starting pitching. And, they should be able to stay strong for years to come.