Inside the Phillies: Former Phillie Ryan Madson is still unsigned

The biggest loser? Former Phillies reliever Ryan Madson and his agent, Scott Boras, are in a winter of discontent.
The biggest loser? Former Phillies reliever Ryan Madson and his agent, Scott Boras, are in a winter of discontent. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 04, 2012

The thought of Ryan Madson ever accepting arbitration and returning to Philadelphia on a one-year contract was enough to elicit a hearty scoff from Scott Boras.

"Ryan was always going to remain a free agent," Boras said last month at the winter meetings in Dallas.

It's just that Madson probably never envisioned remaining a free agent this long.

Once the closers carousel spun with the Phillies' signing of Jonathan Papelbon in November and (mostly) stopped with Boston's acquisition of Andrew Bailey in a trade last week, Madson was still without a spot.

So Madson, the former Phillies reliever, looks like the biggest loser of free agency as the calendar turns to 2012. But, of course, it's only Jan. 4, and judgments will be rendered dozens of times.

Many Boras clients tend to wait until January to make decisions. There might not be an obvious destination for Madson, but that hardly means he's out of luck.

It hasn't exactly been the smoothest of winters, though. The Phillies never had a deal for Madson, but did discuss parameters of a four-year, $44 million contract. A national writer miscategorized those discussions as a finalized agreement. That was never the case.

Of course, once those numbers were leaked, the pressure was on Boras to find Madson a landing spot for no less. So what happened? It could be that the Phillies priced Madson out of his own market by signing the four-year, $50 million Papelbon contract. Immediately, Boras and Madson wanted a comparable deal, which, judging by the rest of baseball's reaction, was deemed way too much.

That could have prompted more activity in the trade market for closers. Toronto, San Diego, and Boston ultimately filled their spots via a trade. Heath Bell signed in Miami for almost half of what Papelbon did. Joe Nathan and Frank Francisco each signed two-year deals for less than $15 million total.

It all left Madson with an uncertain destination.

An aside: Lost in the hot stove shuffle was a chance to appreciate Madson's Phillies career. He became a reliever only when Kevin Millwood unexpectedly accepted arbitration before the 2004 season and thrived despite a desire to start. He did that eventually in 2006, for 17 games, only to lose his job to Scott Mathieson by August.

All Madson did was become the team's all-time leader in relief appearances (473) and third in games pitched (491). Only two guys named Robin Roberts and Steve Carlton ever stood on the mound more times as a Phillie than Madson.

In those 473 games as a reliever, Madson sported a 3.04 ERA. He was at his best during the last two seasons, first as the game's dominant setup man and then, in 2011, as an effective closer. He was a homegrown guy, property of the Phillies for 14 years, and about as good a draft success story the team has had in recent decades.

Free agency hasn't gone as the 31-year-old had hoped. That's not to say Madson won't find his lucrative contract. Boras faced a similar situation last winter with Rafael Soriano, who wanted to close. When the closer market dried up, Boras charmed Yankees ownership into signing a three-year, $35 million deal on Jan. 18 for Soriano to pitch in front of Mariano Rivera. Soriano sacrificed the chance to continue closing for the guaranteed dollars. That's a path Madson could take this winter.

He could play two emerging (and willing-to-spend) American League West rivals off one another. Texas has a deep bullpen, and already has signed Joe Nathan, but the Rangers could move some of their young relief chips to the rotation. Los Angeles has Jordan Walden, the flame-throwing rookie who notched 32 saves in 2011, but the Angels could opt for more security. Madson's best bet is probably landing on one of those teams.

Cincinnati still needs a closer, but the Reds have reportedly not engaged Boras in talks about Madson. The Reds have offered Francisco Cordero a contract and he could re-sign after spending four years there.

There are a slew of teams with closers who wouldn't mind a Madson as an eighth-inning guy. Madson wants to close, but Boras could structure a deal like Soriano's, which included an opt-out clause after the first season. (Soriano will be staying with the Yankees after injuries limited him to 42 games and a 4.12 ERA.)

In other words, it's difficult to discount Boras from pulling another rabbit out of his hat. The super-agent will likely spend much of January attempting magic tricks for clients Prince Fielder, Edwin Jackson, and Madson.

It's just odd to see Madson, a fixture for so long in South Philadelphia, still facing an uncertain future as 2012 begins.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb at or @magelb on Twitter.

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