Phillies closer Ryan Madson came into the 2011 season as the Phillies setup guy and ended the season as the Phillies closer. Madson had a terrific season, going 4-2 with a 2.37 ERA, 2.25 FIP and 2.94 xFIP with 32 saves in 34 opportunities, and a 62-16 K/BB rate in 60.2 innings. His K/9 dropped from 10.87 to 9.20, but his BB/9 stayed relatively flat-2.37 vs 2.21 in 2010. Not only does he strike out a lot of hitters, and keeps his walks down, but he keeps the ball on the ground, as evidenced by his 48.8% ground ball rate, and he keeps the ball in the ballpark as he gave up just 2 home runs in 60.2 innings this season.
So what's not to like? The Phillies have to re-sign him, right? Not so fast. Madson is a free agent, and his agent is the best in the business-Scott Boras. Boras will sign him to the best contract available, and he could wait till January to get him signed, and we all know Phillies GM Ruben Amaro likes to work fast, and strike fast, in the offseason. He has done it in the past with his trades for Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, and in resigning Lee last offseason.
More on the Phillies closer decision after the jump:
But according to recent comments from Amaro, the Phillies may look to sign a closer to a short term contract as a bridge to some of their young pitching prospects.
Matt Gelb from the Phiadelphia Inquirer had more on the Phillies closer decision on Sunday and thinks the Phillies will move on from Ryan Madson and sign a "proven closer" to a short term deal. Here's more:
Now, that original decision is worth revisiting. Madson is a free agent. The Phillies would like him back in 2012, but the love is conditional. Ruben Amaro Jr. has said few definitive things since the season ended, but one was his desire for a "proven closer" - Madson or not.
"I don't feel comfortable with the guys we have internally," Amaro said. "If Ryan does not sign, we might have to go outside the organization. There are some people in our system who think [Justin] De Fratus or [Phillippe] Aumont can do that. I am not convinced of that yet."
Gelb goes on to write about Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, who he thinks will re-sign with the Red Sox, and Heath Bell who has given every indication that he wants to stay in San Diego and will accept arbitration to ensure he does. So what closers are available after Papelbon and Bell? Gelb mentions Francisco Rodriguez who has had issues in the clubhouse and could command a 3 year deal, which the Phillies don't appear to be willing to do. There is former Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton, but he is coming off an injury-filled season, and Twins closer Joe Nathan, who had an up and down return from Tommy John surgery.
Actually, Gelb mentions in his blog that Nathan could be a perfect choice for the Phillies, as they could sign him to a one year deal, and he is a "proven closer". Here is more from Gelb:
Nathan would be cheap. He could be the stopgap for a few months while one of the younger arms builds trust with the staff and assumes the closer role later in the season. Any of those other free agent closers would command more money and possibly more than one year. That's an investment, given the strength of the young relief corps, the Phillies need not make.
So, if the Phillies do move on from Madson, and sign Nathan to a short term deal, fantasy owners need to make sure they have Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont on their radars as well, as they both appear to be in the running for Phillies closer of the future.
Aumont was drafted as the 7th overall pick in the 2007 MLB draft by the Seattle Mariners and bounced between starting and closing in the minors, but when he started, his strikeout rate dropped and his walk rate increased. Considerably. Here are his K/9 and BB/9 rates in the minors:
2008- 8.1 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 8 games started,4 games finished
2009- 10.4 K/9, 4.1 BB/9, 32 games finished
2010- 8.5 K/9, 5.9 BB/9, 21 games started, 2 games finished
2011- 13.1 K/9, 4.2 BB/9, 30 games finished
Aumont was even more impressive in his time in AAA this season, as he 1-0 with 3 saves and a 3.18 ERA. He walked over five batters per nine, but he struck out almost 15 batters per nine as well. Aumont is still young and still needs to work on his control, but he could be a dominant closer if he can limit the walks.
De Fratus was no slouch either. He split time between AA and AAA in 2011, going 6-3 with a 2.99 ERA, 1.168 WHIP and 15 saves, while striking out 11.8 batters per nine innings and walked just 3 batters per nine. His strikeout rate improved from 11.3 to 12.3, and his walk rate dropped from 3.7 to 2.4, as he moved up from AA to AAA in 2011, so he may be closer to the majors than Aumont.
If the Phillies do decide not to re-sign Madson, then fantasy owners need to remember Justin De Fratus and Phillippe Aumont on draft day 2012.