A total of 17 relief pitchers signed multiyear deals last offseason and while there’s no guarantee that owners will spend just as freely this year, it won’t be surprising if they do. So with a number of closing jobs opening up around baseball, Ryan Madson’s job prospects are promising.
The 31-year-old right-hander has been consistently effective since returning to the bullpen in 2007, so agent Scott Boras will be able to point interested teams to an array of impressive stats. There’s Madson’s 2.63 ERA (supported by his 2.59 SIERA and 3.06 xFIP), his 94.1 mph fastball and his 31 saves. His peripheral stats are also strong – 0.33 HR/9, 9.1 K/9, 2.6 BB/9 and a 50.7% ground ball rate – and he can handle hitters on both sides of the plate.
There's a line of thinking that opposes major commitments to relievers given the volatility of their stats from year to year and their limited ability to shape the outcome of a game or season (in relation to starting pitchers or position players). The era of four and five year deals for top closers may be over, but Boras can point to Madson's consistency in an attempt to obtain multiyear offers. The 6'6" Californian has kept his ERA at 3.26 or below, pitched at least 53 innings and struck out at least 6.9 batters per nine innings every season since 2007.
Like Jonathan Papelbon, who will probably be the top free agent reliever of the year, Madson projects as a Type A free agent. Given the Phillies’ need for relief help and Madson’s current salary of $4.5MM, an offer of arbitration seems likely. Assuming Madson declines, he’ll cost teams other than the Phillies a top pick in next year’s draft, which will reduce some clubs’ interest.
A pair of MLB executives recently predicted to ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark that Madson will sign a deal like the one Jose Valverde obtained two winters ago: $14MM over two years plus an option (Valverde was a Type A free agent at the time). Madson seems destined for a multiyear deal and a three-year contract seems likely to me. Setup men such as Joaquin Benoit, Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and Scott Downs found three-year deals last winter and Boras obtained $35MM over three years for Rafael Soriano. It's hard to imagine Madson signing for that much money, but some general managers and owners will probably be willing to guarantee Madson a third year for the promise of bullpen stability.