Did Phillies Sign Papelbon Out of Spite?

In less than one week, the Phillies went from reportedly re-signing closer Ryan Madson to signing Jonathan Papelbon away from the Boston Red Sox. While Papelbon is an elite closer, Madson had a great 2010 in his first year as the primary closer.

So why is Madson an ex-Phillie after Papelbon signed a four-year $50 million contract? Personally I think it was out of spite.

Reports surfaced early in the week that the Phillies were close to re-signing Madson to a four-year $44 million contract with a $13 million option for the fifth year. While that sounded like a lot of money and years for a closer, most Phillies fans would have been happy to have Madson back in a role he excelled in last season. Madson converted 32 of 34 save opportunities and posted a 2.37 ERA.

Almost as soon as the media was reporting that a deal was imminent, the Phillies were saying, ‘Not so fast’. There were reports that the deal was held up while GM Ruben Amaro Jr. waited for Phillies president Dave Montgomery to sign off on the deal. Personally, I don’t buy that explanation. I think this chain of events was set in motion by simple spite.

There is no question that Amaro and the Phillies weren’t happy about the details of their negotiations with Madson getting leaked to the press. There is also no question who leaked the details to the press and why.

Madson’s agent is the one and only Scott Boras. This type of thing is standard operating procedure for a weasel like Boras. He released the details to the press so that he might get a better offer from another team. That ticked Amaro off and I think he got so mad at Boras that he decided to sign Papelbon instead. At the very least, I think Amaro, didn’t want to play Boras’ waiting game. Amaro wants to sign other players and still has to decide whether or not to re-sign shortstop Jimmy Rollins. He didn’t want to have Boras hold him up. Well at least Boras is free to get Madson a better deal from another team now, right?

The Phillies actually contacted Papelbon’s agent at the beginning of free agency, so this move didn’t exactly come out of left field. And Papelbon was widely considered to be the premier closer on the free agent market. But personally, I would have rather the Phillies signed Madson.

Maybe it’s just a case of staying with the player I know better and who I watched develop over the years into what I expect to be an elite closer for years to come. Maybe I’m not sold on Papelbon because I think, fairly or not, that his best years may be behind him.

As I said, last year was only Madson’s first year as the primary closer for the Phillies. And he didn’t even start the year in that role. After Brad Lidge couldn’t start the season, the Phillies turned to ancient Jose Contreras as their closer. When Contreras got hurt almost immediately, Madson stepped up in late April and pitched like one of the best closers in baseball. The Phillies went 87-3 when leading after eight innings and had a major-league best 85 percent save percentage.

Papelbon has been the Red Sox closer since 2006, so he obviously has a better track record in the job than Madson. Papelbon has converted 219 of 247 save opportunities with a 2.30 ERA in his career. Those are remarkable numbers. My issue is that Papelbon is a power pitcher who relies mainly on his fastball. In a hitters park like Citizens Bank Park, I’m not so sure he will enjoy quite that level of success. There is no Green Monster to turn home run shots into doubles in Philadelphia.

Conversely, Madson has spent his whole career with the Phillies and has thrived in that ballpark. Before he became the closer, he was considered one of the best set-up men in baseball. I also liked the fact that he didn’t rely solely on blowing batters away with heat. Madson has a great change up that he can fool batters with and keep them off balance. That was critical to his success.

I am probably nit-picking here. Papelbon has been a shutdown closer except for a little hiccup two years ago, when he lost his job for a period. Papelbon has had six straight years with at least 30 saves. In seven playoff series and 18 games, he is 2-1 with seven saves in eight chances and a 1.00 ERA. He had pitched 26 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason before giving up three runs in the ninth inning of Game 3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels in a 2009 American League division series game.

Another thing to consider is Papelbon has an outgoing personality that is really going to play well with the fans in Philadelphia. Not that the fans didn’t love Madson, but I think Papelbon is a bit more demonstrative. That’s not something that you can measure, but it is something to consider when you have a fanbase like the Phillies that fills the ballpark every night and allows the team to push the payroll to the limit and make signings like this.

I would have rather the Phillies signed Madson, but I am in no way upset with the signing of Papelbon. Papelbon is an elite closer and he is only going to be 31 on Nov. 23. He is in the prime of his career. The only question is whether or not that prime will last for four years. When a fastball pitcher loses a few miles-per-hour on their heater, they become imminently hittable. And when that happens they can’t be closers anymore.

Phillies fans need to look no further than Brad Lidge for an example of that. Lidge was a perfect 48-for-48 in saves in the regular season and playoffs during the Phillies World Series Championship run in 2008. When he lost a few MPH on his fastball due to injury, batters could key in on his once unhittable change-up and he posted a 7.21 ERA in 2009. Obviously the Phillies hope Papaelbon stays healthy.

Amaro said one of his priorities was to get a veteran closer. Most Phillies fans thought, and probably hoped, that would be Madson. I’m sure most won’t be disappointed with what Papelbon brings to the ninth inning. He is a proven winner and now he is being paid like the best closer in the game. Now all he has to do is continue to pitch like he has over the last six years in Boston. The Phillies and Amaro are betting $50 million that he can.

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