Update: Just change Ryan Madson to Jonathan Papelbon and add a few million. No big deal.
I was going to start this post with a hypothetical and condescending question about roster construction and whether or not a shortstop is more valuable than a relief pitcher, but I think we’re all pretty much on the same page when it comes to that kind of thing. Let’s just get on to the part where I speculate wildly about a number of things in order to (hopefully) make a point.
Word on the street is that the Phillies are getting ever-so-close to signing free agent closer Ryan Madson to a deal worth 44 million over 4 years, with a mysterious fifth year vesting option worth 13 million. If this turns out to be true as all signs seem to be indicating, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that’s kind of nuts. Ryan Madson is a really good relief pitcher and is fully capable of living up to that contract if he stays healthy. The only thing is that pitchers don’t ever really stay healthy, and that relief pitchers in particular are notoriously fickle, and also quite easy to replace. It’s a better move to invest big piles of money in elite talent and/or players that contribute while playing scarce positions in the field. Players like Jimmy Rollins.
It just so happens that Jimmy Rollins is also a free agent, and he’d like a four or five year deal, preferably five. Jimmy Rollins plays shortstop, and defends it well while also providing above average offense. Ryan Madson does not do any of these things. In a shocking stroke of coincidence, the results of Fangraphs’ Contract Crowdsourcing projects Jimmy Rollin’s next contract at 3.5 years and 11.9 million per year, figures very close to the actual contract Ryan Madson is reported to be signing very soon. Sure, the good readers and writers of Fangraphs could be mistaken in their assessment of Rollin’s next deal, but they’re generally very smart people, and assuming some rogue GM doesn’t lose it and volunteer for a massive overpay (I’m looking at you Mike Rizzo and Brian Sabean), I think we can agree that those figures are a pretty fair and balanced take on what the market should bear. Without getting too wildly irresponsible, we can round those Rollins numbers up to 4 years at 12 million each, and while we’re at it using our imaginations, let’s tack on that 13 million vesting option for a fifth year, because that’s supposedly how the Phillies are rolling these days. All these shenanigans are to convey that instead of giving all those monies to Ryan Madson, I believe Ruben Amaro would have been wise to instead offer almost the exact same deal to Jimmy Rollins. The one who plays shortstop.
I could be missing something. Maybe the Phillies see something in Rollin’s heir, Wilson Valdez, he of the .290 career OBP. Maybe potential-closer-replacement Antonio Bastardo’s struggles near the end of the season were not a result of simple fatigue, but rather a serious injury or mechanical issue that won’t quickly correct itself. Maybe the Phillies are upping payroll and are going to start giving out Ryan Howard type deals to every player on their roster. There’s so much I don’t know about the intricacies of the Philadelphia Phillies Baseball Operations! So I can only guess. There’s no denying that Rollins is getting old, and that he’s been hurt a lot, and that a lot of his value is derived from being able to play his particular position with above average skill. Paying a player like that for four or five years is a substantially risky proposition. But is it more risky than paying a reliever almost the exact same money? And all things being equal, wouldn’t you rather gamble on the player who doesn’t have a ceiling on the value he can provide to your baseball team? It seems like signing Ryan Madson will effectively remove the Phillies from spending to keep Jimmy Rollins. I think they should have done it the other way around.
We’ll see you next week when Rollins signs for 6 years and 85 million, making me look really stupid.