When Ruben Amaro was holding court about the end of the Phillies season last week, he indicated that the team would sign a veteran free agent to replace Ryan Madson if the closer signs with another team.
We'd love to ask Amaro that question again after watching the Rangers and Cardinals celebrate their trips to the World Series. If he's been paying attention, he might just have a change of heart when it comes to doling out the green for pitchers coming out of the pen.
Neither of this year's participants spent heavily at the start of the year on relief pitching, entrusting their pens to an assortment of castoffs and young guns instead of pricey veterans. That didn't work out all that well, as the Cardinals blew a bunch of saves and both teams found themselves making three trades for pitchers, but it has paid off handsomely in October. Neither team has had starting pitching worth spit, but their bullpens carried them to the doorstep of a championship.
You're probably asking yourself a question right now and that question is probably some variation on how this strategy makes sense for the Phillies if both teams struggled with relief pitching during the season. The reason is that the Phillies should not lay out the money up front for something they can get later at lower cost via trade or via on-the-job training that young pitchers pick up over the course of the year.
The trades that the Cardinals (Octavio Dotel, Marc Rzepczynski) and Rangers (Mike Adams, Mike Gonzalez, Koji Uehara) brought them pieces they knew they needed and they only needed to pay their salaries for a short portion of the season. That's much better than spending $6.6 million on Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero and Danys Baez even if it costs you a few prospects that might turn into players of value.
Relief pitchers are an inconsistent lot, just ask Brad Lidge. Paying them a bunch of money based on past performance is pretty much asking to get burnt at the end of the day. That's not to say that the Phillies should rule out re-signing Madson, because he's younger than most of the pitchers who fit the criteria and because there's something to be said for continuity, but they shouldn't feel the need to overpay to make sure that he's back in the pen next season.
Whatever money is saved can go to other parts of the team and help build a roster that doesn't need to rely on the bullpen nearly as much as the Cardinals and Rangers have done this season. When it comes to this strategy, that might be the best part of all.