The news that former Phils closer Ryan Madson would undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2012 season was a huge shock. A complete surprise. Really, just totally shocking.
The injury also raises some questions about what the Phillies brass knew about Madson’s right elbow, and whether their concerns had anything to do with his contract situation once free agency began last November. Because Madson’s injury certainly makes Ruben Amaro Jr. and the rest of the front office look awfully prescient for either not offering or rescinding (depending on whose story you believe) a multi-year deal for the right-hander.
Madson, who has never had any real arm trouble in the past, began complaining of a tight and/or sore right elbow at the start of spring training with his new club, the Reds. He had yet to throw in a Cactus League game, but seemed encouraged that his elbow was getting better. However, according to the Reds’ website, Madson’s latest bullpen session was cut short after the elbow began to feel “tight.”
A trip to the doctor’s office revealed that Madson’s elbow ligament had completely torn away from the bone. Which, I’m told, is not good for professional pitchers.
For the Phillies organization, this is clearly very sad news. Madson was a key contributor to the team’s current run of five straight NL East titles. In 2008, he was the most dominant set-up man in the game, and last year proved to be a legitimate ninth inning closer.
Madson did a lot for the Phillies, and despite the controversey over whether the Phillies actually offered Madson a four-year deal or not, one can be sure the organization still liked the guy on a personal level, even if they didn’t want to be locked into him as the closer for the next four years.
The question is, was there something in Madson’s medical history that gave the Phillies pause late last year? Was there something that made them say, “You know, I don’t think it would be a good idea to give this guy a bunch of years at big money?”
Madson’s stuff wouldn’t lead one to think that he would be a candidate for an injury like this. He throws a four-seam fastball, a two-seamer and a change-up. It was thought that Madson, rather than Papelbon, was the safer pitcher to give multiple years to, because Madson’s stuff would likely hold up better over time.
Of course, with Madson now being lost for the season, the selection of Jonathan Papelbon over Ryan Madson looks like genius. And one can only wonder why, ultimately, the Phillies decided to go in the direction they chose.
More than likely, their choice of Papelbon over Madson was simply a lucky break (and a horrifically bad break for the Reds, although it will only cost them $6 million this season). And who knows? Perhaps something will happen to Papelbon in the near future as well. Injuries are an unpredictable and, unfortunately, all too real part of professional sports.
The human arm is not designed to throw a baseball overhand for a living. It is why Pat Gillick and the Phillies have traditionally resisted giving pitchers contracts longer than three years. One must be as sure as possible that the pitcher in question will be able to provide their services for the duration of the contract.
Closers, in particular, have a short shelf life.
And a final note about Madson, and his agent Scott Boras. Boras did his client a huge disservice by not scoring him a multi-year deal somewhere. Perhaps it was Madson’s insistence that he only sign with certain teams, or it was Boras’ misreading of the market. Either way, Madson will get his $6 million this year, but after that, there is no big payday, at least not for 2013.
Perhaps this is something that will resonate with a current Phillies pitcher that is considering whether to sign a multi-year extension with the team now, or gamble that his arm will hold up long enough to make it to free agency. Perhaps Cole Hamels will see that pitching for a living is a dangerous road to travel, and the comfort and dependability of a guaranteed, multi-year contract will now be more attractive.
It’s doubtful, but it’s a possibility.
(FOLLOW-UP: Apparently, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki had the same idea about Cole that I did, and asked him about it. In short, Hamels said Madson’s injury will not affect his contract negotiations. At least, that’s the stance he’s taking publicly.)
Either way, a really good pitcher, with years ahead of him, now faces a career at a crossroads. And the Phillies face some questions themselves. Did they know about Madson’s elbow? Did they suspect something might be up? And if so, how much information did they share with the Reds?
Or, was this just a completely freakish thing that caught everybody by surprise? Did the Phillies just get really, really lucky?
With Ruben Amaro, the truth may never be known.