The Oakland Athletics will need to restructure their bullpen this winter, and one free agent target that they should consider is right-handed reliever Ryan Madson.
Madson had a very successful career through 2011. He started with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2003, and proceeded to get better and better over the next nine years. In 2006, the Phils tried to turn him into a starter, which was a less than successful experiment, but his career really took off after he returned to the bullpen.
From 2007-2011, Madson pitched in 310 games and amassed 329.2 innings, all while maintaining a 2.89 ERA. He also struck out 314 batters and picked up 49 saves. The majority of those saves came in 2011, when Madson posted a 2.37 ERA as the team’s closer and saved 32 games in 62 appearances. Before that, he was a setup man for closer Brad Lidge, and a very successful one.
All of that work took its toll on Madson. After signing with the Cincinnati Reds in the 2011 off-season, he tore a ligament in his elbow and was forced to have Tommy John surgery before he’d ever taken the field for the Reds. His rehab didn’t exactly go as planned, and heading into the 2015 off-season, he hadn’t pitched at the major league level since his final outing with the Phillies in 2011.
Luckily for Madson, the Kansas City Royals were willing to give him another shot on a minor league – or perhaps in retrospect, it was more lucky for the Royals that he was available. In 2015, the 34-year-old pitched in 63.1 innings over 68 outings, walking just 14 batters and striking out 58 in route to a 2.13 ERA. He’s been shaky in the postseason – allowing three solo home runs in three innings of work against the Houston Astros — but his regular season performance was so good that it’s hard to hold that against him.
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Madson has a great fastball that lives in the mid-90s – but he also has a devastating changeup that averages 83.2 miles per hour. This makes him a deadly pitcher to face late in the game. Despite the fact that Madson spent so many years away from the game and is fairly old for a reliever, he hasn’t lost any velocity. His success with the Royals proves that he’s just as good as he was before the injury, and he’s certainly worth a gamble in free agency.
While his age and injury history certainly makes Madson a candidate for a cheap deal, that same success that makes him an interesting candidate will also likely lead to the Royals offering him a one-year deal. The A’s would need to make a better offer, but it would be worth it.
Although Sean Doolittle is likely to return as the closer next year, there are almost no other bullpen jobs that are guaranteed. Madson’s talent would make him a viable option as a setup man, and he could easily fill either the seventh or eighth inning for the Athletics.
When he signed with the Angels, Madson agreed to a $3.5 million, one-year deal – which is similar to what the A’s should offer him for the 2016 season. With the major league incentives in his minor league deal with the Royals, Madson made just over $1 million. The A’s would be smart to offer him something in the neighborhood of $4 million for next year, or $7 million over the course of two years.
Despite his Tommy John history, Madson has been a relatively healthy pitcher, and his age shouldn’t be enough to scare teams away from a multi-year deal. If the A’s can acquire him, their bullpen will have a much strong base than it did in 2015.