Lidge Out 3-6 Weeks; Contreras Named Closer

A couple important pieces of news came out today regarding the fates of Brad Lidge, Ryan Madson, and Jose Contreras.

Via Todd Zolecki’s Twitter:

More from the ballpark: Lidge expected to miss 3 to 6 weeks.

Via Matt Gelb’s Twitter:

Not at the ballpark but colleague Ray Parrillo passes this along: Charlie says Contreras would be his closer right now.

And:

Lidge diagnosed with “posterior rotator cuff strain.” Billy Wagner had same injury with Phillies in 2004. Missed 44 days.

Obviously, I would have preferred to have seen Madson given the closer’s role, but it’s not a big deal. Yeah, ninth innings are typically higher-leverage than eighth innings, but if you recall my post on Madson from March 2:

The reality is that Madson, in the eighth, tends to face the heavy-hitters. In 2010, the opposing 3-6 hitters in the batting order accounted for 48 percent of all batters faced by Madson while the bottom of the order accounted for 25 percent. Lidge faced the 3-6 hitters 39 percent of the time and the 7-9 hitters 36 percent.

Additionally, the move may have financial implications. Madson becomes a free agent after the season. Closers make significantly more money than other relievers due to the perceived significance of the inning in which they pitch. Matt Thornton is arguably one of the ten best relievers in baseball, but since he wasn’t a closer, he could only manage a two-year, $12 million extension with the Chicago White Sox last year. Lidge signed a three-year contract extension in July 2008 worth $37.5 million. Closers make bank; set-up guys do not, unless your name is Rafael Soriano and you play for the New York Yankees.

By intentionally deflating Madson’s save opportunities, the Phillies effectively remove some of his leverage at the negotiating table, making him cheaper to retain. That is a good thing, generally speaking.

However, this move can have an adverse effect as well. Madson has gone on record saying he would like to both close and finish his career with the Phillies. If they are unwilling to give him the opportunity to close in 2011, he may be skeptical that he will ever get the opportunity and take his services elsewhere after the season.

Those are longer-term worries, though. Contreras is not chopped liver by any means. Pitching mostly in the seventh inning last year, Contreras averaged better than a strikeout per inning while issuing few walks. He allowed only five home runs in over 56 innings as his 94+ MPH fastball and 88 MPH slider effectively kept hitters off balance for most of the season.

Contreras can thrive in the closer’s role while Madson continues to pitch where he has been most comfortable in the eighth inning. Fantasy baseball players may be pulling their hair out, but this recent turn of events is rather insignificant.