It seems like every winter, there’s at least one free agent who enters the offseason with an inflated sense of his self worth, only to exit with a deflated contract. This year, that dubious distinction belongs to Ryan Madson.
In early November, there were several reports suggesting that the Phillies and Madson were close to agreeing upon a four-year deal worth $44 million, which would have been an astounding figure for a 30-year old pitcher with only one season as a full-time closer. However, only days later, the Phillies introduced Jonathan Papelbon as their new fireman. Whether Madson’s dickering or the Phillies’ cold feet resulted in the quashed deal, the decision turned out to be very costly for the reliever, who just signed a one-year contract with the Reds worth a reported $8.5 million.
Madson’s case is very reminiscent of the fate that befell Jody Reed in 1993. Despite ending that season with an OPS+ of 87, the Dodgers still offered the light hitting second baseman a four-year deal worth almost $8 million…and he turned it down! In response, the Dodgers traded for Delino DeShields and pulled the offer completely, leaving Reed to scrounge for another suitor. The Brewers eventually signed the infielder, but at a discounted base salary of $350,000. Although Reed wound up earning an additional $400,000 in bonuses, his career earnings from that point forward were just under $3 million.
I have a great deal of respect for Jody Reed. He played hard for us and he played well. As far as the negotiations, we had put forth our offer very early, before Jody really declared free agency. If he had said yes to our offer, we wouldn’t not have traded for a second baseman.” – Fred Claire, Dodgers’ GM, quoted by AP, November 21, 1993
Granted, Madson’s story isn’t exactly the same as Reed’s. Whereas the Dodgers only pulled their offer after Reed rejected it, it seems as if the Phillies backed away because of a miscommunication between team president David Montgomery and his baseball people. Then again, considering the reputation of agent Scott Boras, it’s easy to envision a scenario in which trying to get every last penny from the Phillies opened the door for Papelbon.
Madson and Boras probably aren’t the only ones kicking themselves this morning. Would the Rangers be better off with one year of the healthy 30-year old than the two-year, $14 million commitment given to Joe Nathan, who is coming off Tommy John surgery? You can bet the Brewers would rather be spending $8.5 million on Madson than the over $12 million Francisco Rodriguez will cost them in arbitration. Also, had they known he would settle on such discounted terms, the Red Sox may have preferred signing Madson to trading prospects for Andrew Bailey. Even the Phillies have to be wondering if the team would be better off with a short-term commitment to their incumbent than the long-term deal given to Papelbon. Needless to say, the market for closers has been very unpredictable this offseason, and there is no shortage of those who seem to have misread it.
If Madson has another strong season, he should be able to score a bigger payday next winter. Nonetheless, his circumstances should serve as a cautionary tale to future free agents, many of whom, like Jody Reed, may only get one chance to cash in. An inflated ego is often a good quality to have in competitive sports, but when it comes to the negotiating table, it’s better to have a more accurate sense of self worth.