Ryan Madson to Miss 2012 Season

Bad news for former Phillie Ryan Madson:

Following an examination in Cincinnati Saturday morning, the club said that Madson’s elbow ligament had torn off of the bone. He will need season-ending Tommy John surgery.

Phillies fans feel fortunate for missing this bullet. If Madson had actually been signed to the proposed four-year, $44 million deal during the off-season, the Phillies would have been put in a precarious situation given their other injury problems. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the off-season would have followed this specific route, but all else being equal, it would have been one more catastrophic problem to add to the pile.

There isn’t too much to add to the discussion other than that we should feel terrible for Madson. He signed with the Reds on a one-year, $8.5 million deal months after the four-year, $44 million deal with the Phillies fell through. Boras suggested Madson take a “pillow contract” — a short-term deal that adds to his client’s market value so that a longer, more lucrative deal can get had in the next free agency period. With Tommy John surgery on the horizon, Madson may never again be offered a multi-year contract, and will likely never see anything close to $44 million. I chronicled the rather subpar off-season Boras clients were having, but no one had it worse than Madson.

In response to the news, I saw two reactions from Phillies fans that I would like to address as well. The first is that Madson’s injury justifies the four-year, $50 million contract given to Jonathan Papelbon. The two aren’t related; the Papelbon contract is just as ill-advised whether Madson has a 7.50 ERA, misses the season, or calls upon the spirit of Mariano Rivera circa 2008. If anything, the Madson injury should make Phillies fans feel more apprehensive about Papelbon. Pitchers are very injury prone as the act of throwing a baseball overhand is an unnatural motion for the human body, just ask Johan Santana, Stephen Strasburg, J.J. Putz, or Tim Hudson. Locked up with Papelbon for four years, the Phillies must hope their new right-handed closer avoids the randomness of the universe and the frailties of his own body.

The second thing I’m hearing is that Madson’s injury and the Phillies’ sudden avoidance during the off-season insinuates that they knew he was injury-prone. If that were true, the Phillies wouldn’t have pursued him as heavily as they did, nearly committing four years and $44 million.

To say that the Phillies had knowledge of Madson’s declining elbow health assumes one of two things: the Phillies had a sudden change of heart between the time they were negotiating with Madson and when they sidled up next to Papelbon, which was not a lot of time. The other possibility is that the Phillies were overtly bluffing to the rest of the league or to Papelbon. However, that clearly didn’t work as they ended up paying slightly more, rather than less, for Papelbon.

The Madson/Papelbon situation is just an illustration of the power of randomness. The Phillies — and the rest of the league, for that matter — should learn from Madson’s situation by being more hesitant in offering long-term contracts and large sums of money to players in a fungible position. Since relievers, by and large, are dependent on rolls of the dice, it is often prudent to have as little money riding on them as possible.

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16 comments

  1. LTG

    March 24, 2012 03:06 PM

    Does anyone have knowledge about a) the relationship between mechanics and UCL tears and b) Madson’s pre-2008 mechanics?

    There’s an article on ESPN about a) but, per their usual lack of rigour, there is only a casual mention that the correlation between mechanics and UCL tears is not well founded in research. The rest of the article takes the relationship for granted. I would have liked to read about what evidence there is beyond the anecdotes.

    His mechanics have looked good since he became a dedicated bullpen piece, but I have a vague memory that he was inconsistent with his arm slot before then.

  2. nik

    March 24, 2012 03:54 PM

    Best proof that the Phillies didn’t know about the injury is the fact that Boras took the 1 year offer. If there was any suspicion, he’d sign a multi-year deal with someone.

  3. voyager

    March 24, 2012 09:45 PM

    Bill,

    Avoiding long-term contracts is a great idea, but it is a lost cause. Star (and even good but not great) free-agent have all the bargaining power, and teams will offer long-term contracts to lure them because they want to win (and fill the seats).

    I imagine you believe long-term contracts is a bad idea in general. What do you think it will take to retain Cole Hamels and do you think the Phillies should give him a long-term deal (ie, 5 years/120 million like Cliff Lee)?

  4. Phils_Goodman

    March 24, 2012 09:48 PM

    Re: Final paragraph

    Are relievers any more prone to UCL injury than starters? If not, this injury illustrates nothing about the starter money vs reliever money issue. The take-away would be don’t commit long-term money to pitchers, or be extremely smart about the way you do it (assuming some front offices actually know how to predict pitcher injury).

  5. pedro3131

    March 24, 2012 09:50 PM

    Not to be nitpicky here but why is Tim Hudson an example of how pitchers are prone to injuries? He’s pitched 30 or more games 8 times in his career, and 20 or more times 4 times.

  6. Nik

    March 24, 2012 11:10 PM

    I’ve heard a few times that pitchers that have put up multiple seasons without any elbow/shoulder issues are more likely to not get injured going forward. Its kind of like, if that UCL was gonna pop, it would have already popped. This is probably bad timing for this example as Madson had put up multiple seasons without any elbow flare-ups.

  7. hk

    March 25, 2012 06:33 AM

    voyager,

    I believe that Bill is only talking about relief pitchers (and possibly swing-men and 5th starter types) as being fungible. I am pretty sure that he does not consider Cole Hamels or Cliff Lee fungible.

  8. JRFarmer

    March 25, 2012 09:31 AM

    The Phils should sign Madson next year to a minor league deal (I’m assuming he won’t be offered a major league deal by any of the other teams due to him coming off this surgery).

    Low risk/high reward.

  9. LTG

    March 25, 2012 09:41 AM

    I think the power is going to the reCAPTCHA’s head. It has the Ancient Greek word for horse (‘hippos’) as one of the test words, in the Cyrilic script, with proper accent. Do I have to start using special characters to submit here?

    And it seems crazy to think Madson won’t be able to get an MLB contract next year. Tommy John surgery has a high rate of success and pitchers usually return to their previous performance levels or close to them. Madson won’t be able to get the multi-year deal he was looking for this offseason and hoping for next offseason, but he’ll get a one year offer from some team who needs bullpen help. The Phils might even be that team if the price drops into the Contreras range.

  10. Ken

    March 25, 2012 09:48 AM

    Speculation like JRFarmer’s mention of the Phils inking Madson next year to a minor league deal is I believe way, way off the reality that is.

    Let’s not think for a second that Madson’s news is good. But it’s not as bad as to that type scenario developing.

    First, Madson is protected by a mutual option for next year. Salary of about 10 mil. Now to him, that might look sweet, in a recovery, or audition year. A good 2012, and chances were he’d have scoffed at it, but that was then. And it might not look so bad to the Reds, either. Have you checked out the post TJ surgery results of most guys? More often than not, the guys come back with a vengance. And it would lock the Reds in for just 1 year. Madson, at 60 innings (albeit with multiple days in a row) might be less risky than a 2 mil buyout and new closer. Also, with recovery times accelerating on TJ, it would figure the Reds will have a pretty decent idea by option decision day how the recovery is going. Madson won’t be throwing anywhere near full strength by then, but they should be able to project his recovery enough to make more than a blind decision. If the Reds do decline, by a year from now, with 25 man rosters not finalized, Madson figures to throw well enough to get a much better deal than a minor league one suggested in association with the Phillies. As a Madson fan, I wish this hadn’t happened. But he should be fine if you apply more than a reactionary vision.

  11. jauer

    March 25, 2012 06:29 PM

    Is Tim Hudson superhuman, or does he not subscribe to base-10 numerals?

  12. Jonny

    March 26, 2012 08:30 AM

    I’m just glad that this isn’t a “Phillies problem”. Hope Madson recovers and gets back on track asap.

  13. Rob in SJ

    March 26, 2012 09:48 AM

    I see no chance that the Reds pick up that option. $10MM for a reliever coming off Tommy John? The Reds are not a well off team, and they can’t take that risk. I also don’t see him coming back here. Relief Pitcher seems to be one area the Phillies have some depth in AAA, and given his choice I don’t think Madson wants to deal with Amaro, he clearly feels he was done wrong, and probably is now even more bitter about it than ever, since it is no longer a year long delay in a long term contract, it is very likely a career long loss in income that he will never make up.

  14. Phillie697

    March 26, 2012 02:55 PM

    Man, Madson can’t get a break. Feel sorry for the guy.

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