The Return of Ryan Madson?

Could the Phillies and pitcher Ryan Madson be reuniting?

If ESPN's Jayson Stark is to believed, then yes, Madson, the former Phillies closer and current nebulous free agent, might actually be on the roster in 2012. Stark explains via Twitter:

As closer openings vanish, lots of buzz at meetings that Ryan Madson could accept arb w/ #Phillies & KRod might have to do same w/ #Brewers.

It's a completely unexpected turn of events -- one coming not too long after the Phillies signed Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year deal worth $50 million and right on the heels of Heath Bell signing (a bargain) contract worth $28 million over three years with the Florida Marlins.

And just like that, it seems that any leverage that Madson had has vanished, leaving him with very few options, as the market for high-priced relief pitchers seems to be going the way of the dinosaur, which leaves him with the following:

  • He could take a deal for fewer years and less money from whatever team will have him.
  • He could accept arbitration from the Phillies and return to the team in 2012, at a salary less than what he was expecting.
  • Or, he could throw caution ito the wind and go play in Japan where fans will be awed and wowed by his 6'6” frame and his fastball-change combination -- which would baffle opposing hitters and send scores of fans into a rage of glee, shouting “The Great Madson is here to save us all!” Of course, since they love the long ball over there, Madson will probably just have to carry the pink backpack to the bullpen every night, because, you know, he'd be a rookie and all.

So really, he has two options, with the most intriguing of the two being him returning to Philadelphia upon accepting arbitration. It's a longshot, but he'd figure to get around $7 million if he were to return, where he would ostensibly be the setup man for Papelbon. This would be a great situation for the Phillies, who would have shutdown bullpen (even at a crazy-high salary) and plenty of depth at the end of games.

However, while his return could result in a great 'pen, they might be better served to trade him. It's an absolute certainty that he has the open market as a closer after the 2012 season, and since teams can no longer get draft picks for Type A relief pitchers from the signing team, there is an argument to be made for them to maximize his value and get something in return. There is really no wrong answer for the Phillies, as they strengthen the team with him (bullpen) or without him (somewhere else via trade).

Whatever happens, it's become a nightmare situation for Madson, who came onto the market as one of the best relief pitchers available, with an agent who knows how to extract every last dime from teams that usually pay high. And even though the Phillies set the market by overpaying for Papelbon, no other teams appear to following suit.

But is his return likely to happen? Probably not. Despite the absurdity and poetic justice of a Madson return, the simple fact remains that some team out there will likely pony up the cash for Madson, albeit on a much shorter contract. In doing so, it would allow allow him the opportunity to close (which is best for his value), but it would also allow him to hit the market in a year or two, in hopes that his long-term deal can be realized.

Still, given the random and nutty nature of the baseball off-season, I wouldn't be surprised by anything at this point.

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