Somewhere down near the bottom of the middle of the theoretical depth chart sits Ryan Madson. Madson was a potential game-changer for any bullpen in need last winter, eventually settling on a surprising one-year deal with the Reds.
It seems there were well-founded concerns about Madson’s health. The Brewers reportedly came close to a signing Madson but backed off due to worries about his elbow. The Reds rolled the dice and lost as Madson required Tommy John surgery in Spring Training, missing the entire season. The Reds were no worse for wear thanks to their otherwise overpowering and uncommonly healthy pitching staff but now Ryan Madson is back on the free agent market with his value slightly…dinged.
Though he will miss the start of the upcoming season has he rehabs his elbow but, provided all goes well, he represents a nice bullpen arm for an enterprising team willing to take on some risk.
Mike Axisa of MLB Trade Rumors examined Madson’s free agent stock in September, noting how few precedents exist for a reliever coming off Tommy John. Axisa floats Manny Corpas’ name while hammering home the point that Corpas ain’t no Ryan Madson.
Ryan Madson was one of the very best relievers in the game for his career in Philadelphia, spending his final year there as the closer. As one might assume, Madson’s agent Scott Boras wants his client to return to closing for whichever team signs him.
While the exact same situation, thinking about Ryan Madson brings Joe Nathan’s name to the front of my mind. Two long, slender relievers who were among the very best before their respective right elbows gave out. Their velocities are similar though Nathan is fastball/slider compared to Madson’s change of pace approach.
Joe Nathan missed the entire 2010 season after undergoing his tender transfer operation at the end of March, returning to the Twins in the setup role for the 2011 season before hitting free agency. Nathan pitched 48 times that year, though he was not his former dominant self and missed nearly a month with a muscle strain in his forearm.
Nathan’s strikeouts were down and his home runs were up in 2011 but, after signing with the Texas Rangers for 2012, Nathan re-discovered the form that made him the best non-Rivera and therefore human closer in baseball for the better part of a decade.
What can Nathan teach us about Ryan Madson? Should the long road back scare teams off the once-dominant Phillie? Ryan Madson is famous for his unbelievable change up, a pitch that doesn’t place the tender elbow parts and pieces under same strain as the slider, Joe Nathan’s pitch of choice.
The safe play is a likely a one-year deal where Ryan Madson recovers some value by re-establishing himself as a great reliever. Perhaps a forward-thinking team with a need at the back of their bullpen will give Madson two year plus an option, allowing him to work through the game rust only to reap the benefits of a lessened dollar figure on the back half of the deal?
Anything that sounds too good to be true is just that. Scott Boras and his keen team of bloodsuckers aren’t about to allow their client to be exploited by a vulturous team. Team Boras’ stated desire to rack up saves is not a coincidence – they want to hit the market armed with saves and health to ensure the next big pay day. It’s their job, after all.
Ryan Madson’s job will be saving baseball games again very soon. Working him in slowly this season is probably the best idea but any team willing to take a risk on the once-great stopper is sure to benefit in the long run.