Ruben Amaro likes to act fast. Really fast.
Ruben and the Phils inked closer Jonathan Papelbon today for a contract in the neighborhood of 4 years/$50 million pending a physical. The deal is $6 million more than the rumored deal Ryan Madson was offered.
Papelbon has been an exceptional closer for six seasons with the hated Red Sox, posting a 2.33 ERA, averaging over a strikeout an inning, keeping a HR/9IP rate under 0.7, and converting 219 out of 248 save opportunities. Papelbon comes to the Phils with a 1.00 playoff ERA, allowing less than a base-runner per inning in the postseason but comes with the baggage of a horrific collapse against the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
The signing of Papelbon gives a lot of reasons for Phillies fans to be angry. For one, if the reported offer was true, a deal with Madson would have given the Phillies more payroll flexibility to lure back fellow fan-favorite Jimmy Rollins and add a bat to the bench. Secondly, Papelbon’s four year deal breaks the old Phillies’ rule about signing any pitcher for more than three years; do you think Roy Halladay, who took a below market contract for only three years and an option to stay a Phil, enjoys this?
This rule, put in place by Pat Gillick, has saved the Phils time and money in the past: Adam Eaton, Joe Blanton, and Brad Lidge could have been bigger financial disasters without it in place. But to break it for a more expensive version of the guy the team already had?
Papelbon comes to the Phils with the perceived rare closer’s pedigree. The difference in money in the Phils’ offer to Papelbon reflects his years of service as a closer versus Madson’s relatively level of inexperience in the role and a slight statistical advantage.
Since 2006, Papelbon has been worth 14.6 WAR to Madson’s 6.7. In this case, WAR favors Papelbon K/9IP that are over 3 more than Madson’s over his career and the third of a runner per inning pitched WHIP-wise and does not reward Papelbon for saves or saves opportunities. Papelbon on the surface is a better pitcher from what we have already seen, but as a Phillies fan, given the choice between players of the same age — one who took a below market deal to stay with the Phillies, grew into a dominant set-up man and posted a tremendous season — and one who is coming from a team who was part of one of the greatest collapses of all-time, is from a team the Phils fans love to hate, and is more expensive, who would you take?
My heart and pocketbook tells me Madson was the better choice here. You’d only save about $1.5 million per year with Madson, but that $1.5 mil is the difference between Ryan Doumit and Brian Schneider, Kyle Kendrick and Chris Capuano, or even Rafael Furcal and Wilson Betemit. Mad Dog gets more ground balls, has pitched more innings, and has been the Phillies’ best bullpen option since permanently moving there in 2007. My mind, however, says, money aside, Papelbon is the better choice.
Papelbon has been on the mound to close a World Series and has closed in a big market for six seasons. Make no mistake about it, Papelbon imploded during the Red Sox’s last game of the season, but Madson has had his share of that as well (see 2010 NLCS Game 6). Papelbon does what a closer is supposed to do: limit base-runners and doesn’t give up homeruns. For a team that wants to win now, I applaud the move, but I am stunned they did not go with the cheaper in-house extension. However, with the talk of shaking up the team, this move does that and does have other benefits.
Aside from being statistically the better player, the Papelbon deal could indirectly net the Phillies a better draft pick depending on how good the team who signs Madson is. If the team who signs Madson has a protected pick, the Phillies obtain a sandwich pick and a second-round choice. However, if the team who signs Madson’s pick is unprotected, the Phillies will receive a better pick than the 31st overall pick they forfeited by signing Papelbon. In a way, this move makes the closer position stronger while having the opportunity to net a better draft pick.
This move was stunning, in both a positive and negative way, and makes you question the validity of the things we see on Twitter and the things said by Amaro. With deals of over three years to pitchers Lee and Papelbon, the Phillies are now clearly a team willing to take a chance on high priced arms. For a guy like Halladay, I would be asking for my extra years right now. It also shakes up already unclear shortstop and left field position.
Either way, I am sad to see Madson go and excited to see what Papelbon can do.