Ryan Madson: Overlooked Casualty of the Hunter Pence Deal?

Hunter Pence is a Phillie. While the Delaware Valley sorts out whether His Smugness overpaid for Pence (There is a preponderance of arguments both for and against, although the most reasonable position is probably "We'll see."), most of us seem to be overlooking a key factor in determining whether or not this was a good trade overall - simple dollars and cents. In taking on Pence for at least the next 2-3 years, Ruben Amaro, Jr. has effectively signaled who won't be coming back next year. (Hint: It begins with Ryan Madson.)

This offseason is going to be an expensive one for the Front Office. Six of the Phils' core players are eligible to hit the free agent market once the season is over: Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Roy Oswalt,* Madson, Raul Ibanez, and Brad Lidge.*

*If, as expected, their option years are bought out.

Ibanez was already on his way out of Philadelphia, and possibly baseball itself, though it wouldn't surprise me if some AL team who is desperate enough signs him to DH. There has been rampant speculation that Oswalt will retire; if he chooses not to, he has a $2 million buyout clause that the Phillies will most likely exercise, inserting Vance Worley into the rotation in his place. Lidge has a similar clause for $1.5 million that the team is all but certain to exercise, though there is a possibility, now much stronger, that the Phils are going to resign him to a contract much smaller than his current one.

These three contracts currently represent $40 million that will come off the payroll next year, minus the $3.5 million from the Oswalt and Lidge buyouts. So before the Pence trade, the Phils were going to see $36.5 million in salary cap relief next year before talking about payroll increases.

Now, however, it looks like that figure has shrunk to $25 million, more or less. Pence enters his first year of arbitration this offseason, and if Rube is smart, he will buy out Pence's arbitration years now, while Pence can be had for $10-12 million a year instead of 15. Instead of taking Ibanez's contract off the books, trotting John Mayberry out in Left Field (And let's be frank for a moment - who doesn't think this would represent an overall upgrade over Ibanez? Mayberry is right-handed, he plays superior defense to Ibanez, and he costs $12 million per year less), and counting on an improved Dom Brown to pick up the slack offensively, the Phils will have essentially extended Ibanez's contract by another three years - though, we can only hope, Pence will provide a greater return for the money than has Rauuuuuul. Put another way, the Phillies' payroll flexibility now comes down to the exit of only the Oswalt/Lidge contracts.

OPINION ALERT: The Phillies' top priority, hands down, should be to resign Cole Hamels. He is neck and neck with Roy Halladay for the NL Cy Young this year and is just now entering the prime of his career. Though nothing is guaranteed, the next five years could see a display of dominance from Mr. Hamels the likes of which haven't been seen in Phladelphia since Steve Carlton was pitching at Veterans Stadium. This man has the potential to be better, for a longer duration, than Curt Schilling ever was. /END OPINION Corey Seidman over at Brotherly Glove posits that Hamels could sign for something on the order of 5 years, $95 million. This represents an increase in AAV of $10 million over his current contract, which seems entirely reasonable and worthwhile to me. Assuming His Smugness wants to keep the Phillies below the Luxury Tax threshold, that leaves $15 million to play with.

Some of this should go towards resigning Jimmy Rollins, argues Bill Baer over at Crashburn Alley, and I would agree. Not only is Rollins, at age 32, still one of the premier shortstops in the league, he is one of the faces of the franchise, and is worth more to the Phillies than he is to anyone else. The last thing the Phils need is for the relationship they have with their spokesman to sour (see: Jeter/Cashman fiasco) or to be severed completely. Rollins can probably expect a raise next year, which would eat into the remaining money the Front Office has to play with. Let's call that remaining money $10 million (a number I may or may not have made up, taking into account other salary increases up and down the roster, mostly from arbitration cases). This represents the available money left to sign Madson.

Resigning Madson, who has come into his own as a dominant closer, was already going to be difficult. Before he became a Scott Boras client--an ominous sign that often spells the end for a player's tenure with their current team--he could probably have expected to command in the neighborhood of 3 yrs/$25 million this offseason. Now with Boras driving the negotiations? He gets established closer money (~$12 million/yr), or better. He is arguably the best available relief pitcher in this year's free agent class, and you can bet there will be a bidding war for his services.

I would love to see the Phillies resign Madson as their closer, and a case can be made that his value to the team is greater than or equal to Rollins', but the money is probably not going to work out. Trading for Hunter Pence eliminated the wiggle room that the Front Office would have had to bid on a new contract for Mad Dog.

That said, there are two contingency plans that His Smugness could conceivably fall back upon. The first involves non-tendering Kyle Kendrick, Ben Francisco, and Ross Gload (The relative merits of non-tendering each vary in quantity, but this article is getting too long anyway, so I won't go into them here.). JC Romero's and Danys Baez's contracts are coming off the books anyway, so the combined savings from these five players could be enough to provide extra cap room, provided that Lehigh Valley has enough talent to adequately replace these five at the league minimum salary.

If, as may be the case, Mad Dog still ends up with the Yankees (A Cliffmas Story aside, who doesn't these days?), I like more and more the idea of signing Antonio Bastardo to be the Phils' closer going forward and resigning Lidge--to a much smaller contract--to be the fallback plan/setup guy. Bastardo has not yet proven, over a large enough sample size, that he can consistantly dominate Major League hitters, but he shows tremendous promise. Combining Bastardo and Lidge with the likes of some combination of Michael Stutes, Jose Contreras, MIchael Schwimer, et al. could actually constitute an incredibly solid back of the bullpen - without Madson.

There are going to be a lot of moving parts for the Phils this offseason. Trading for Hunter Pence eliminated one of them, and unfortunately, Ryan Madson is probably headed for bigger, though, most likely, not better, things. But Ruben Amaro, Jr. has surprised us before, and time will tell if he can again.

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