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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.