Most statistics say Phillies closer Ryan Madson had a better 2011 than Padres stopper Heath Bell. Madson is three years younger, but Bell has tallied three consecutive 40-save seasons. Both righties are Type A free agents, and guessing their contracts is an interesting exercise.
In the last three years, Madson has increased his strikeout rate to more than a batter per inning while maintaining strong walk and groundball rates. He had a reputation as someone who was better off in the eighth than the ninth inning heading into this year, but Madson silenced those critics by converting 32 of 34 opportunities once pressed into duty. He's represented by Scott Boras, and will find a three-year deal with ease. No free agent reliever has gotten a four-year deal since Francisco Cordero and Scott Linebrink four years ago, but I think Madson has a shot.
Bell experienced a marked decline in strikeout rate this year, showing signs of his old rate only in September. He still limited hits and home runs and converted 43 of 48 save opportunities. Bell wants and expects to remain in San Diego, saying in August that he'd accept arbitration if the Padres offer. Padres owner Jeff Moorad said one year was preferable to the team in some ways. It was reported later that month that the Padres offered a two-year, $14MM deal while Bell was seeking $27-30MM over three years. Bell is represented by ACES, an agency known for getting strong multiyear deals for veteran free agents.
For the sake of argument, let's say both relievers reach the open market. That's not hard to picture with Madson, who will certainly cost a draft pick to sign. For Bell to reach the open market, the Padres would probably have to decline to offer him arbitration. So in this scenario Madson costs a draft pick to sign and Bell does not. Working under these assumptions, which reliever gets a bigger overall contract, Madson or Bell?