Do you remember last winter, when Ryan Madson was a free agent and couldn't get a long-term contract offer even though he pitched really well as the Phillies' closer in 2011 and had pitched well in the three previous seasons, too? Remember how strange that seemed? And how strange it seemed, also, when Scott Boras, Madson's agent, seemed so pleased when he finally got Madson a one-year bridge contract for only $6 million (plus a $2.5 million buyout if the Reds don't exercise their 2013 option for $11 million, which they probably won't, so they're going to wind up paying him $8.5 million for one year of zero innings)?
Madson's replacement with the Phillies, ex-Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, signed a four-year, $50-million contract. You know, by way of contrast:
Madson: 1 Year, $8.5 million
Papelbon: 4 Years, $50 million
Sure, there should have been a big difference between their contracts. Over the last four seasons, Papelbon ranks second among all relief pitchers with 9.2 Wins Above Replacement while Madson is 10th with 5.5 WAR. Relievers are fungible and unreliable, and that's why teams don't like to give them a great deal of money unless they're Jonathan Papelbon or Mariano Rivera (9.4 WAR; yes, according to FanGraphs, Papelbon's been almost as good as Rivera since 2008).
That said, Madson's been almost as good as Heath Bell over the last four seasons, and this winter Bell got three years and $27 million. It seems at least possible, doesn't it, that some of Madson's prospective suitors were scared off by the possibility that his valuable right arm was actually a ticking time bomb, set to go off just a few moments after he signed a new contract for some millions of dollars?
It seems possible. But except for a stretch in 2007, Madson's been really healthy for a long time, and he finished strong last season. I checked in with a few teams rumored as prospective suitors for Madson before he signed with the Reds, and nobody would acknowledge being concerned about Madson's health. Which isn't to say nobody was. But I think his (and his agent's) inability to cadge a big long-term deal was more about the market.
Teams are smarter than ever, and not many of the clubs with money were looking to spend it on a closer this winter. Which cost Ryan Madson (and his agent) a great number of dollars. Fortunately, the inflation rate is still exceptionally low, so $8.5 million should keep a roof over everyone's heads for a while.