Tag: Ryan Madson

Fantasy Baseball Digging for Saves: Is There a Closer Controversy in Philly?

Seeing Jose Contreras getting a day off on Friday was not surprising. He is 39 years old and had appeared in four games in five days. According to Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer (click here for the article), he had thrown 72 pitches over that stretch. 

He certainly deserved a rest, but is that why he was also not used on Saturday when a save opportunity presented itself once again? Gelb has a quote from manager Charlie Manuel saying, “He’ll be ready to pitch [Sunday].” He also said that Contreras “is OK.”

Now, fantasy owners are left wondering what is going to happen. Ryan Madson certainly has the better pure stuff, but his struggles in the closer’s role in the past led to him being overlooked for the role with Brad Lidge out of action. All he’s done over the past two days is allow one H and zero BB, striking out one, in 2.0 innings of work to lock down two saves.

Could he now start to see a few opportunities? His 1.00 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, along with 10 K, over 9.0 innings of work would certainly justify such a move.

However, what has Contreras done to lose his job? All he has done is post a 0.00 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, along with nine K, in 8.0 innings to convert five saves.

Are we going to move to a committee situation? Will the matchups dictate who is going to be used? Will one stumble by either pitcher lead to the other getting the next opportunity?

It’s hard to imagine Contreras losing the job, considering that he has done nothing but excel in the role thus far. However, the Phillies may want to see if Madson, 30 years old, has finally matured to the point that he could handle ninth inning duties. 

It is no secret that Brad Lidge is no lock as a closer and, with his contract expiring after 2011 (the team does hold a $12.5 million option that is unlikely to be picked up), the team needs to know if Madson can handle the job in 2012 (though he is also a free agent after the year) or if they need to import another option. Madson will likely command far less than someone like Heath Bell or Jonathan Papelbon.

How this will play out, no one knows, but it has become a difficult situation for fantasy owners. Both Contreras and Madson should be owned in all formats, but unless your league values middle relievers or if you are desperate for saves, both should be on your bench. In a perfect world, if you owned one you would also own the other, but we all know that’s not always possible. Given Madson’s history, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him stumble, but right now he certainly is in a groove.

What are your thoughts on the situation? Who do you think deserves the job? Who do you think will be the closer?

Make sure to check out the Rotoprofessor Closer Tracker (updated on April 24) by clicking here.


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Brad Lidge Out 3-6 Weeks: Can Jose Contreras Handle the Closer Role?

After receiving an MRI yesterday, it was determined that Brad Lidge’s injury woes will continue: he has a strain in the back of his right shoulder rotator cuff. In other words, according to Courier Post Online, this is equivalent to a tear, and he could even be out until July.

This is far from good news that the Phillies have received throughout this year’s spring training. Domonic Brown broke his hand after ending a hitless streak of over 15 at-bats. Chase Utley is out indefinitely with tendinitis in his right knee. Placido Polanco hyperextended his left elbow, on which he received surgery this offseason. Roy Oswalt suffered a scare when he was hit by a Manny Ramirez line drive.

And now, after returning from bicep tendinitis, Brad Lidge—who was healthy for spring training for the first time in a long time—remains on the list, which at this point seems endless.

With every injury comes a fill-in, and in this case like all others, the Phillies’ closer role is currently vacant.

While the temporary replacement of Brad Lidge has yet to be finalized, manager Charlie Manuel thinks that the role should and will go to Jose Contreras. Ryan Madson was in the running, but Manuel, among others, believes that he will do better in the set-up role for now, where he has consistently pitched well over the past few seasons.

Before we think more on this likely decision, let’s take a look at Contreras’ role with the Phillies last season.

In his first season with the Phillies last year, Contreras also pitched in his first season as a reliever. He made 67 appearances in relief last season, more than any other Phillie. In 56.2 innings of work, Contreras posted a 6-4 record with a 3.34 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He also recorded 13 holds and yes, four saves. He also struck out 57 batters who faced him.

Not bad considering his age (38 last season) and amount of appearances, is it?

Although the closer role is much different than a relieving or even a set-up role, let’s take a look at Brad Lidge’s stats from last season.

Lidge, who spent a long stint on the DL last season, had a record of 1-1 in 50 appearances comprised of 45.2 innings of work. In that amount of work, Lidge posted a 2.96 ERA and struck out 52, posted a 1.23 WHIP and 27 saves.

Take a look at the ERA, strikeouts, and WHIP. These stats between the two are oddly similar. And while innings pitched, record, appearances, and saves are incomparable (due to injury and different roles), the comparable stats are very close to each other. Although ERA is a bit more distant that Ks and WHIP, 38 points isn’t too far off.

So the question now is this: will Jose Contreras be able to handle the temporary role of closer?

There are arguments on both sides. One could argue that he can because he did so well as a reliever and closer last season, and the fact that he was 38 years old shows he’s durable and can continue posting such stats. In fact, both pitchers allowed the same amount of home runs (five), and Contreras actually allowed fewer walks than Lidge in more innings of work—Lidge allowed 24 walks; Contreras allowed only 16.

On the other hand, Contreras only has one season of relief work under his belt and his ERA is a bit too high for a reliever. He could also be drilled this way: there is only one closer on the team, and there are four or five relievers. Relievers can be split up by day and batter; closers must face all batters in the ninth inning in order to record the save.

And then there’s more. Since the rotation will most likely go deep into games—at least seven or eight innings per game—only a reliever or two will be used, and the closer will be used often. If Contreras had to pitch three or four out of five games, would he be able to handle such stress on his arm? Remember that he was a reliever for the first time last season and would be called upon maybe every three days. Starters are called upon every five days. An average closer could be called upon four of five days. That’s a lot of work.

If the cons ultimately outweigh the pros, Ryan Madson could look like a great option. He’s in a contract year and he’s got to deliver. If he shines and Contreras falls, then this might be the golden opportunity for Ryan Madson to nab the closer role and more money for the 2012 season. Madson, who’s been a reliever for most of his career, knows how to handle the eighth (and somewhat the ninth) inning situation through much experience. Could he end up as the Phillies’ closer?

For the meantime, Phillies fans’ minds are wondering whether Contreras is the right decision for the closer role.

Is it the right move?

Only time will tell.

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MLB Fantasy Baseball Digging for Saves: Who Will Replace Brad Lidge?

Brad Lidge is the latest closer to go down with an injury and how long he will be out is completely unknown. The pain in his shoulder has yet to be identified, meaning he could be out a week, a month or maybe more. It was just a few days ago that I questioned if Lidge was even worth owning (click here to view) and now things look even more dubious. 

Obviously, there are two options for the Phillies to turn to, either Ryan Madson or Jose Contreras. The question is, who will it be? Or, will fantasy owners face yet another “closer-by-committee” situation?

According to Todd Zolecki of mlb.com (click here for the article), the latter does not appear to be in the cards. Pitching coach Rick Dubee was quoted as saying, “Guys are more comfortable when they’re slotted into a role. It’s preparation. You know when your time is coming. When you’re grabbing at straws, guys are a little leery about what’s going on. You like to have that back end set up.”

So, knowing that it is likely going to be one or the other, which is the player that fantasy owners should be targeting?

Ryan Madson is clearly the more dynamic pitcher. He has the better stuff and you would think that he should excel closing out games. However, he has never seemed extremely comfortable in the ninth inning. It is a small sample size, but in 2010 he converted just five of 10 save opportunities. Over the past five seasons he has 19 saves in 35 opportunities.

In Zolecki’s article, Dubee is quoted as saying, “He doesn’t get to the same comfort level. There’s a little anxiety there. The ninth inning is a little different than the eighth. There have been solid eighth-inning guys that haven’t been able to pitch the ninth. One day they learn how to do it.”

Contreras, however, thrived in his brief chance as closer in ’10, converting four saves in five opportunities. In his first season in the bullpen he posted a 3.34 ERA and 1.22 WHIP over 56.2 innings of work. That’s not to mention a 9.05 K/9, significantly better than he did while in the starting rotation.

If Friday’s spring game was any indication, you can tell which direction the Phillies are leaning:

Eighth Inning: Ryan Madson allows one hit in an otherwise clean inning as the setup man.

Ninth inning: Jose Contreras is perfect, complete with two strikeouts, picking up the save.

Should we be looking too much into spring strategy? Of course not, but past success clearly is going to factor into the Phillies thinking. Small sample size or not, you can tell by Dubee’s comments that Madson’s past struggles are certainly going to play a role. 

Obviously, to be safe all Lidge owners should be hoping to stash both Contreras and Madson. You really don’t know exactly what is going to happen at this point. However, if push comes to shove, all signs are currently pointing to Contreras getting the first opportunity to close out games. Right now neither appear to be a long-term options, but those looking to steal a few saves early on will want to probably nab Contreras.

What are your thoughts?  Who do you think is going to get the save opportunities? 

Make sure to order your copy of the Rotoprofessor 2011 Fantasy Baseball Draft Guide, selling for just $5, by clicking here.

Make sure to check out our 2011 rankings:

Top 15 Catchers
Top 15 First Basemen

Top 15 Second Basemen

Top 15 Third Basemen

Top 15 Shortstops

Top 30 Outfielders

Top 30 Starting Pitchers

Top 15 Closers


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With Brad Lidge Set to Open Season on DL, Opportunity Arises for Ryan Madson

Tell me you haven’t heard this one before: Philadelphia Phillies‘ closer Brad Lidge is likely to spend Opening Day and the 14 days thereafter on the Disabled List.

After several offseasons filled with surgeries and rehabilitation for Lidge, he and the Phillies‘ fan base were overly optimistic of a full, healthy season from the once perfect closer.

Though he had the tell tale signs of an arm injury—most notably the lack of velocity on his fastball—Lidge told the media several times over that he was healthy. As it turns out, he’s not.

The injury came as a bit of a surprise Friday morning, as Lidge had just returned to the mound this week after being sidelined with some tendinitis. No one anticipated the news that he had been dealing with some shoulder soreness—something that he had successfully kept hidden away from the spotlight.

For that reason alone, when Lidge and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. addressed the media this morning, neither were happy to be delivering the news.

Each of the men told the media that Lidge was experiencing some discomfort in the back of his shoulder—a danger zone for pitchers—but although an MRI had not been scheduled as of yet, the soreness was expected to be just that—soreness.

The Phils’ closer doesn’t expect to have any structural damage in his shoulder.

Though the injury was kept quiet by Lidge, he did his best to reassure the club that he wasn’t being purposefully deceptive about it:

“I’m a little concerned because I haven’t had shoulder problems in the past. There was always a little pain in the back (of the shoulder), which we thought was biceps tendinitis. I haven’t had shoulder issues before. At least not for a long time.”

Still, Lidge conceded that shoulder soreness is something he has dealt with in the past, and for a guy who’s dealt with a myriad of injuries in his career, that could be a bit of a concern.

However, as long as there isn’t any structural damage in Lidge’s shoulder, which seems to be the case as of now, both Lidge and Amaro don’t expect the closer to miss an extended period of time.

So, when will Lidge return to the Phillies’ bullpen?

“We don’t think it’s going to be a long-term issue, but it could be,” said Amaro in his usual in his short, vague snippet. If Lidge opens the season on the Disabled List, the team could activate him on April 9 at the earliest.

“This is all part of the game,” said the GM. “Nobody wants injuries, but we’ll deal with them.”

So, how exactly will the Phils’ deal with Lidge’s injury? The obvious first question is who takes the mound in the ninth inning. Over the last couple of seasons, when Lidge has missed games, the closer was without a doubt Ryan Madson. Amaro wasn’t so keen on simply handing him the gig on Friday morning.

When asked who was going to be the closer in the short term, Amaro’s response was another simple, vague answer: “Whoever we think is going to be better.”

Obviously, the chances of Madson not being the closer are incredibly slim, but Jose Contreras has pitched well for the Phillies in every role they’ve assigned him, and if the team isn’t keen on changing everyone’s role, Contreas could be the guy.

Of course, Contreras will get his share of consideration for the job because of Madson’s failure in that role in the past. However, the set-up man is sure that he’s ready to become a closer, especially in his walk-year with the Phillies.

According to Madson, a conversation with his agent, Scott Boras, after he kicked a steel chair and broke his toe last season helped him adjust to a late inning role.

“He said, ‘Tell me what your mentality was when you were closing.’ I was like, I thought I was going to be perfect,” said Madson.

“I really thought I was going to be perfect and not blow one save. Well it doesn’t work that way. You’re putting too much emphasis on every pitch. Then when you blow a save, it carries on and little things happen.”

We all know that closing out ball games is as much mental as it is physical, and Madson certainly has the skill to be a closer. If that conversation with Boras really made a difference, which has yet to be seen, the Phillies may not be looking at their set-up man any longer, but their closer of the future.

As Madson prepares to open the season as the Phils’ closer, we’re left wondering just what Brad Lidge has left in the tank.

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Philadelphia Phillies: Will Ryan Madson Become the Closer in the Near Future?

On January 18, Ryan Madson woke up to some pretty good news.

No, he was not the recipient of a new contract.

No, his wife was not expecting another child.

And no, most certainly, the Phillies had already signed Cliff Lee back in December.

It was an important day for Madson, however, a day in which reliever Rafael Soriano finalized a three-year contract with the New York Yankees to set up future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. A $35 million payout to Soriano certainly raised eyebrows around the league, and a whole lot of questions.

Why New York, when the Yankees already have an established closer that shows no signs of letting up any time soon? More important, why so much money?

We’ve been down this road before, with guys like Francisco Cordero, Brandon Lyon and Francisco Rodriguez in past years. This offseason, Soriano, Joaquin Benoit, Scott Downs and others all set themselves up very nicely financially for the next few seasons.

It now begs the question: How much is someone like Madson worth, and will he be a Phillie in 2012?

First off, it’s important to note that the Phillies hold a team option in 2012 with current closer Brad Lidge, for approximately $12.5 million.

Should the Phillies decline that, they can work out a deal with Lidge at a lesser price or they can say goodbye to the man who helped deliver a World Series title in 2008 and turn over the closer role to Madson. It would be hard to see the Phillies keeping both men in the bullpen, primarily due to cost.

It would not be prudent for the Phillies to spend approximately $20 million per year on a pair of relievers, which is likely somewhere in the neighborhood of what it would cost to pay Lidge and Madson in 2012.

It is also important to note that Madson is the lone Scott Boras client on the Phillies’ roster. The Phillies were able to work out a three-year, $12 million contract with Madson and Boras prior to the 2009 season.

However, they have had trouble with Boras in the past. The J.D. Drew saga still haunts many Phillies fans to this day. Meanwhile, Jayson Werth hired Boras towards the end of the 2010 season and finds himself in Washington with a hefty payday. Not that anybody is blaming the Phillies for overpaying Werth, though.

Boras has done his job very well and though many don’t like him, he certainly has gotten the most for his clients, a list that includes Matt Holliday, Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez.

Obviously, dealing with Madson will be a different animal altogether. Relievers are usually relatively unpredictable and only the best ones are rewarded with substantial contracts.

It’s safe to say that Madson is in line for one himself after posting a career-low 2.55 ERA last season. Since moving to the bullpen in 2007, Madson has pitched 269 innings, allowing just 242 hits and posting a 3.01 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.

His K/9 ratio has increased each season since 2007 and was at 10.87 last year. That puts him in the discussion with guys like Benoit, Heath Bell and Brian Wilson.

The question remains, though, whether he will receive a contract like Benoit’s or Matt Thornton’s (who signed a two-year, $12 million deal with the White Sox on Sunday), or whether it will look something more like Soriano’s.

Teams seem to value closer experience, and Soriano’s 45 saves last season for Tampa Bay certainly earned him his extra loot. Indeed, Madson has been known to struggle in his career in save situations, but that is unlikely to scare many teams away.

Comparing Madson to Soriano is relevant in terms of trying to figure out what type of deal Madson might be in line for.

Since 2007, the same year Madson became a full-time reliever, Soriano has posted a .93 WHIP, far lower than Madson’s 1.20 during that same time.

If there is one thing Madson has going for him, it’s that he has been relatively healthy in the past few seasons. Despite his freak injury last season (a broken toe caused by kicking a chair after a game in San Francisco), Madson has been relatively healthy throughout the past four seasons.

Soriano and Benoit, meanwhile, have both dealt with shoulder issues. Soriano missed almost all of the 2008 season with elbow issues, and Benoit has had his fair share of injury issues throughout his career.

This much is known: The Phillies will need another big season out of Madson if they want to have success coming from their bullpen. What is not known is where Madson will be in 2012.

It is likely, though, looking at his recent performance and comparing him to other pitchers, that Madson will be worth $7 million-$9 million to some team. The Phillies, in a perfect world, would probably work out some sort of deal with Madson during the season, but the current situation would not make that feasible.

Boras has likely discussed with Madson a plan of attack, one that will include waiting to see whether or not Lidge will return to the Phillies in 2012.

For now, though, Madson will focus on trying to help the Phillies to another World Series in 2011.

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Philadelphia Phillies Bullpen: Madson Reigns as Phillies’ Best Relief

With less than four weeks until pitchers and catchers are to report, the Philadelphia Phillies have already established the best rotation in baseball, and that is without knowing with a certainty that the fifth starter will be Joe Blanton or Kyle Kendrick. 

As of yesterday, Kendrick signed a one-year contract for $2.45 million, and Blanton is signed through the 2012 season being owed $17 million.  A lot of people had suspected that the Phillies would trade Blanton in order to free up some salary room after having signed Cliff Lee, as the Phillies are locked in at about $15 million more than what they had expected for 2011.  GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. stated that he does not feel comfortable dealing Blanton right now, and, honestly, there is no hurry to do so.

Dealing Blanton is still a definite possibility, if the proper situation arises, but Amaro is not actively seeking a deal.  If a team, such as the Minnesota Twins if they were unable to resign Carl Pavano, desires Blanton, there very well could be a trade, but there are no dealings currently on the table. 

That being said, Kendrick and Blanton were both starters in 2010 (see article on Blanton and Kendrick here: http://tinyurl.com/6e9p244), but Blanton will take the fifth spot in the starting rotation if he remains a Phillie, which will leave Kendrick coming out of the bullpen.

With Blanton being the fifth starter, the Phillies currently have Ryan Madson, Danys Baez, J.C. Romero, Jose Contreras and Kyle Kendrick, with Brad Lidge as the closing pitcher.  Kendrick is easily the youngest of the six pitchers in the bullpen, being the only one under 30 at the age of 26.  The rest of the pitchers are 30, 33, 34, 39 and 34, respectively.

The bullpen is certainly on the older side, and the performance of the bullpen has always been a question mark for the Phillies.  Looking at their statistics, Madson reigns easily above the rest, even though the numbers for Kendrick for 2010 are his numbers from starting, not relieving.

Their statistics show:








































































Of all of the relievers, Madson had the second most innings pitched in 2010, with the best ratio of walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP), most strikeouts per nine innings, most strikeouts per walk, most strikeouts and fewest walks (excluding Kendrick since he was a starter) and, most importantly, he allowed the fewest earned runs for the best ERA.

Madson is the future of the Phillies bullpen, and, since his contract expires after this season, it would be of the team’s best interest to extend his contract soon.  He is young and the best producing reliever on the team, and his numbers made great improvements in 2010, which shows he is growing as a pitcher. Overall, Madson has proven that he is a reliable and dependable pitcher, more so than any of the other relief options that the Phillies have to offer.

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Worth Mad Money? Why the Phillies Should Extend Ryan Madson Now

When the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series in 2008, they did so primarily on the strength of their bullpen. With a weak starting rotation, the Phillies shortened games by bringing in reliever after reliever that could shut down the opposition for a single inning. One of those relievers was right-hander, Ryan Madson.

Since then, Madson has honed his skills and continued developing into an elite reliever. Under the tutelage of pitching coach, Rich Dubee, and fellow relievers like closer, Brad Lidge, Madson has developed into one of the game’s most dominant set-up men. Regulated to the eighth inning, Madson has become the major foundation for a bullpen that was once known as “the Bridge to Lidge.”

With free agency looming in the near future, the Phillies find themselves in a peculiar situation. With the potential of losing both Madson and Lidge after this season, the Phillies need to act now and sign Madson to a contract extension sooner, rather than later.

In 2010, Madson was easily one of the league’s most effective set-up me. He posted a record of 6-2 with an ERA of 2.55 and dominated nearly every controllable aspect of the game when he was in it. He struck out more than 10 batters per nine innings, while walking just over two. In fact, his 10.87 K/9 was the 12th best in the National League, and he matched that with a BB/9 of just 2.21, 10th best in the National League. Plain and simple, it was just a challenge to hit him. Opponents hit just .219 against Madson, and over the course of the entire season, he logged a WHIP of just 1.04, 10th best in the National League among relievers.

What makes Madson so good? On the surface, it seems to be the natural progression of a professional ball player. As he’s garnered experience at the major league level, he’s become one of the league’s top relievers. However, Madson boasts an impressive repertoire of pitches, the best of which is a fastball / change-up combo.

The most common use of his fastball is of the four-seam variety, averaging 93mph in the strikezone, with the ability to touch anywhere between 95-98mph on the gun. Mix that in with a phenomenal change-up that, at one point in time, was classified as a curveball, and it becomes simple to see why Madson has become a strikeout artist.

However, a further look at the data collected on Madson’s pitches from 2010 may explain the boost in his numbers.

In 2009, a season that saw Madson post a record of 5-5 with an ERA if 3.26, Madson threw his fastball a career high 65.5 percent of the time and mixed in his change-up 25 percent of the time. Having thrown just two pitches a total of 90.5 percent of the time, it’s simple to see why opposing hitters were able to sit on one of his two best pitches—the fastball or the change-up.

In 2010, he made a complete change to his style, lowering the use of his fastball to just 39.8 percent, while continuing the use of his best pitch—the change-up. At the suggestion of Dubee, Madson began using two other pitches in his arsenal—the slider and cutter—with more frequency. Now having above average control over four pitches, as opposed to two, Madson was able to post a career high in his rate of strikeouts and FIP and generate 1.3 WAR as a reliever.

With the Phillies potentially losing their strongest relievers after the season, they should implore to offering Madson a contract extension now. But where should they begin?

In 2009, Madson agreed to sign a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies, so in any deal, he will look to top that. Represented by Scott Boras, Madson will not be an easy sign and even tougher to convince to sign a contract extension. With one of the craftiest agents in baseball in tow, and by taking a quick glance at his career numbers, Boras would have no problem marketing his client as a closer, raising his value considerably. The Phillies, when negotiating a contract extension, would have no part of that.

When Lidge went down with several injuries in 2009 and 2010, Madson became the team’s closer by commission. Many within Philadelphia questioned the reliever’s mental make-up, as he blew an incredible 11 saves in limited opportunities over that span. While he has been, without a doubt, one of the best set-up men around, the Phillies would not entertain the fact that Boras will attempt to market him as a closer. Before he hits the open market and has the opportunity to close elsewhere, the Phillies would be wise to offer him a lucrative contract extension. There are no guarantees in the open market, as Lidge has proved.

One of the most notable comparisons was a deal signed this offseason. As the best set-up man on the market in 2010, Joaquin Benoit cashed in with the Detroit Tigers, signing a three-year, $16.5 million deal. Though the deal was seen as an overpay by the Tigers, Benoit posted many stats that almost mirror Madson’s 2010 season and may have set his market.

With the Tampa Bay Rays in 2010, Benoit posted a record of 1-2, with an ERA of 1.34 as the Rays set-up man. Though he posted K/9 (11.19), BB/9 (1.64), FIP (2.43) and WAR’s (1.5) that were all superior to Madson’s numbers, the Phillies’ right hander has one thing that Benoit did not—Boras.

Unless the Phillies are willing to offer a deal that pays his client market value, he won’t be interested in signing. Having previewed the market, however, he will have noticed the relief class of 2012 is extremely strong, featuring more closers than teams in need. Anyone that even remotely understands business knows that a greater supply than demand does not usually mean good business.

The Phillies could offer Madson a deal of three years, $17 million; a deal that is almost exactly the same as Benoit’s deal. Both parties benefit from a contract extension. Madson is comfortable going into the season, and the Phillies have some consistency going forward. With Lidge’s 2012 contract option surely to hefty to exercise, the Phillies have a safety net should their venture for a closer on the open market fail.

If the Phillies are going to compete moving forward, Madson is a much more valuable commodity than originally meets the eye, and the Phillies could benefit by extending him a contract offer now.

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Joakim Soria: The Final Piece to the Philadelphia Phillies’ Offseason Puzzle?

The Kansas City Royals had two prized pitchers heading into the offseason. The first was 2009 American League Cy Young Award winner, Zack Greinke. He was known to be available after having voiced his disgust with the Royals, and a few months later, they shipped him to the Milwaukee Brewers for four of the Brewers’ top prospects.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the press release had barely gone public when teams started calling about the Royals’ second most valued commodity—closer, Joakim Soria.

Soria, 26, has been nicknamed “The Mexicutioner,” and it should be fairly obvious why: When he enters the ball game in the ninth inning, the opponent’s hopes of winning are all but dead.

Since becoming a full time reliever in 2007, Soria has been electric, appearing in a total of 238 games, posting a record of 8-10, with an ERA of just 2.01. Through age 26, he has converted 238 saves for the bottom dwelling, Kansas City Royals, and has blow just 13 saves over the course of his career. By the time his career is finished, he could be one of the greatest closers baseball has ever seen.

So why would the Royals want to trade him?

Though they’re not stuck in the same predicament they were with Greinke, the Royals interest in trading Soria would be more of a want than a necessity. Soria is signed to a team friendly deal through the 2011 season, with club options that become guaranteed with various in-game feats for each season through 2014.

Soria’s contract is one of his best selling points, and has drawn the interest of large market teams like the New York Yankees, who were rumored to have offered their top prospect, catcher/DH Jesus Montero, straight up for the Royals’ closer. The Yankees were denied because of the depth of the Royals’ farm system in that position, but the point is clear: teams are willing to give up their best to acquire Soria. Why is that?

In short, he has been absolutely dominant as a closer. Last season alone, he posted a record of 1-2 with an ERA of 1.78 for the Royals, converting 43 saves. Take into consideration that the Royals won just 67 games in 2010.

That means that Soria saved more than 64 percent of all Royals wins in 2010. Imagine what he can do with an annual contender like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, or as this article is concerned, the Philadelphia Phillies.

With Brad Lidge already in tow, why would the Phillies consider Soria?

When he is completely healthy, Lidge is one of the best closers in baseball. He showed flashes of that brilliance at the end of the 2010 season, where he posted an ERA of 0.76 over the final three months of the season, and reduced his blown saves from 11 in 2009 to just five in 2010. It is his inconsistency that has worried the Phillies organization, however.

Before he returned to form in those final three months, Lidge posted an ERA of 6.52 in the months of June and July. Aside from his on the field performance, Lidge is almost sure to become a free agent after the 2011 season, since the Phillies hold a hefty option for 2012 that is sure to be declined.

The Phillies also boast a set-up man that has “closer stuff,” in right-hander Ryan Madson. Madson was much better—and more consistent, for that matter—than Lidge in 2010. He posted a 6-2 with an ERA of 2.55, and despite missing a significant amount of time with a broken toe, recorded 15 holds to effectively set up Lidge.

Like Lidge, however, Madson will become a free agent after the 2011 season, and though he is more likely to return to the Phillies than his closer counterpart, he is a Scott Boras client, and will surely make the Phillies sweat it out and ask for a big pay day.

With the uncertainty of the Phillies bullpen after the 2011 season, why not make a play for the golden standard?

According to Baseball America and numerous other prospect gurus, the Royals have the most talented, deepest farm system in baseball. With names like Mike Montgomery, Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Wil Meyers in their system, the Royals made it clear that they will not just settle for a team’s top prospect. In any deal for any of their star players, they are going to fill areas of need with young, talented players.

General Manager Dayton Moore made it clear that he was going to seek a middle infielder, a center fielder and pitching help for Zack Greinke’s services, and what did he do? He went out and acquired shortstop Alcides Escobar, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and pitchers Jeremy Jeffress and Jake Odorizzi from the Milwaukee Brewers. So what’s left to upgrade?

From an outsider’s perspective, the Royals appear to need the most help in the outfield, in the starting rotation, in the bullpen, and behind the plate. If the Phillies were going to express interest in Soria, they could help fill each of those areas. Any deal for Soria would surely start with baseball’s top prospect, outfielder Domonic Brown.

Though he had a less than impressive debut, Brown mashed minor league pitching, posting a slash line of .332/.391/.582, with 20 home runs. He is the standard five tool player, and will transition into one of baseball’s premier outfielders.

The Phillies could also offer a bevy of relief prospects, highlighted by right hander, Justin DeFratus. He posted ERAs below 2.20 at three different levels in the Phillies’ system in 2010, and was added to the 40-man roster earlier in the winter.

Combined with any number of starting pitching prospects like Trevor May, Jarred Cosart, or Brody Colvin and talented defensive catcher Sebastian Valle, and the Phillies could put together an impressive package.

That seems to be where most teams put Dayton Moore on hold. How do you value a pitcher that is going to throw a maximum of 70 innings pitched? According to some sources, the Phillies wouldn’t be ridiculous to offer Domonic Brown straight up for Soria, but like the Yankees, they would probably be turned down.

As mentioned earlier, Soria has an extremely team friendly contract that should up his value. If the Phillies were to offer Domonic Brown, Justin DeFratus and another player, I think it would be hard to turn that package down.

Soria himself could also be an obstacle to a deal. He has a partial no trade clause that blocks, among other teams, the Phillies. Though recent reports suggest that Soria wouldn’t block a trade to any team, he could use his no-trade clause as leverage to negotiate an extension with a new team. That, is a different discussion all together.

At the end of the day, Soria seems like a perfect fit for the Phillies bullpen. Assuming that they could move Joe Blanton, he’d make just half of what the starter is due in 2011.

Assuming that he’d be the go-to guy in the ninth inning, the Phillies would be able to turn to Jose Contreras, JC Romero, Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge in some combination from the sixth inning onward, and with their four horseman manning the rotation, how often would they be necessary?

It would easily be the greatest pitching staff of all time, and certainly complies with General Manager Ruben Amaro’s philosophy that pitching wins championships.

I suppose it comes down to the discussion, who is more valuable going forward—Joakim Soria or Domonic Brown?

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Phillies Bullpen Targets For 2011: Rebuilding the Bridge to Lidge

In a season plagued by underachievement, inconsistency, and injuries, one controllable aspect of the Philadelphia Phillies’ 2010 is the bullpen.

From the dominant bullpen that lead the Phillies to a World Series title in 2008, earning the nickname the “Bridge to Lidge,” the Phillies’ relief corps of 2010 took a big step back, finishing 18th in ERA despite pitching the fewest innings in the National League—with only the Seattle Mariners logging more out west in the American League.

It was no surprise to hear that the bullpen was GM Ruben Amaro Jr.’s top priority entering the off-season.

Even though he has already resigned Jose Contreras, the Phillies still have major question marks thus far. Along with left handed specialist JC Romero, Chad Durbin, middle inning work-horse, is a free agent.

The 2010 performances of rookies David Herndon and Antonio Bastardo surely didn’t leave opposing hitters shaking in their cleats. Many questions and few possible answers.

With these variables in mind, many Philadelphia fans are asking the question: “How can we turn this sorry excuse for ‘relief’ into the once feared ‘Bridge to Lidge?'”

Well, it starts with the man himself. The Phillies only have three certainties in 2011: Contreras, set-up man Ryan Madson, and closer Brad Lidge. They were the few bright spots of a weak 2010 campaign.

Contreras was a work-horse out of the Phillies ‘pen in 2010, logging innings and pitching to the tune of a 3.34 ERA. Most importantly, he was able to remain healthy for the entire season, earning himself a two year deal in free agency.

Despite missing time with a self inflicted broken toe, Madson continued his streak of dominance in the eighth inning. The only remnant of the 2008 “Bridge to Lidge,” Madson was stellar in 2010, throwing 53 innings of 2.55 ERA ball.

Of course, there is no bridge without a destination. Lidge finally returned to form in 2010, gathering 27 saves and compiling a 2.96 ERA. Lidge’s best work was done over the final months of the season. However, he threw 24.2 innings to a tune of an 0.76 ERA.

So assuming that these three guys can carry their success into 2011, how can the Phillies complement them this off-season?

The answer is through the free agent market. With Romero not expected to return, the Phillies’ first task in rebuilding the ‘pen will be to add a couple of left handed specialists. Left handers Hisanori Takahashi and Pedro Feliciano, both former Mets, seem to make the most sense.

Takahashi seems to be the best option for the Phillies. He was known best with the Mets for his flexibility in roles. He spent time in 2010 as a starting pitcher, a middle reliever, Francisco Rodriguez’s set-up man, and as the team’s closer, when “K-Rod” became ineligible for the last portion of the season.

The Phillies are expected to make Takahashi an offer, as the team could benefit from help in the areas of starting pitching depth and left handed relief. Takahashi was especially tough against left handed hitters in 2010, striking out more than ten left handed batters per nine innings and allowing only two earned runs from the left side of the plate—neither of which were via the homerun.

The Phillies may be able to lure him to Philadelphia by offering him the same type of deal the team offered to Chan Ho Park—an offer to compete for the fifth starter’s spot and a guaranteed spot in the bullpen. While he may be the most expensive option, he may also be the most important sign.

Feliciano has been a thorn in the side of left handed Phillies since 2003, his first full time gig with the Mets. Often called on to face tough outs like Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, Feliciano had become a staple in late innings of Phillies and Mets games. Signing him for that reason may be a plus in and of itself.

He would more than likely be a major upgrade to the oft-injured, oft-inconsistent, JC Romero. Feliciano lead the league in appearances for a reliever last season, logging 62 IP.

While teams may try and drive his price down, by arguing that he has a lot of strain on his arm, his agent will surely try and drive his price up, by proving that he’s been the model of consistency.

Feliciano remained true to his bread and butter in 2010, as he was nearly untouchable from the left side of the plate. Left handed hitters hit only .218 against him, while he struck out over nine lefties per nine innings. His numbers against right handed hitters are awful, but any team with common sense will use him strategically in the latter innings against left handed hitters.

The Phillies have also expressed interest in bringing back Chad Durbin, though they may have been discouraged by rumors that he will seek a multi-year contract as a starting pitcher, despite not having done so since 2007. With that in mind, the Phillies may check in on other options. A couple names stand out to me: Matt Guerrier, Koji Uehara, Dan Wheeler, and Chan Ho Park.

A member of the Twins bullpen in 2010, Guerrier is an interesting case. Despite being a “type A” free agent, he wasn’t offered arbitration, and it won’t cost a draft pick to sign him. He posted an ERA of 3.17, but his FIP of 4.23 suggests that he was extremely lucky.

Any team that values saber-metrics realized this, and it’s most likely the reason he wasn’t offered arbitration by the Twins. He’s not as valuable as his basic numbers appear. If the Phillies can get him at a good price, he’d be a good sign to work in the middle innings, alongside right hander Jose Contreras. 

That puts Uehara in a similar ship.

The Japanese import (a lifetime starter in Japan) was stellar as the Orioles closer in 2010. He only picked up 13 saves for the O’s, but, had they been a winning team, that number would have probably been tripled. He showed impeccable control in 2010, striking out 11 hitters per nine, while only walking one per nine. His ERA of 2.86 was very, very good, and even then, his FIP suggests that he was unlucky, at 2.40.

If I had to have one right handed bullpen arm, this is the guy that I would want.

The Phillies may not be his top choice, mainly because they are already committed to Madson and Lidge at the back of the bullpen, but money talks. If the Phillies can lure him to the City of Brotherly Love, he’d provide much of the same things that Hisanori Takahashi would.

Wheeler and Park round out potential right handed bullpen arms for the Phillies.

Wheeler pitched for the Rays in 2010, and he can be compared to Guerrier. Despite having a good ERA of 3.35, his FIP of 4.11 suggests that he caught some breaks in 2010. His HR/9 is a cause for concern, especially with the way the ball jumps off the bats some nights at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. As long as he’s kept in the middle of the pen, he’d be a good addition.

The same could be said for Park, who would be an interesting minor league signing. The Phillies expressed interest in bringing the 17 year veteran back after the 2009 season, but he chose to sign with the World Series counterpart Yankees. He was traded after a disappointing start, and didn’t exactly turn any heads in Pittsburgh. A chance to rebuild value in a place where he was comfortable might sound appealing to him.

Despite being called a weak free agent market, the market for relievers is surprisingly deep. However, some in house options may be as appealing because of the money they’d save turning to them. Minor leaguers Scott Mathieson and Justin De Fratus will get a lot of looks in spring training.

Mathieson, 27, is one of those “feel good” baseball stories. After two successful Tommy John surgeries, the right handed fireballer came out, well, throwing fire in 2010. In 64 innings with the Phillies Triple-A affiliate Iron Pigs, Mathieson pitched to an ERA of 2.94, earning his cup of coffee with the big league club as a September call up—all the while, averaging 95 MPH on his fastball.

De Fratus, 23, turned some heads in the Phillies organization after splitting time with A+ Clearwater and AA Reading. Throwing a combined 65 innings, De Fratus pitched to an ERA of 1.99, his success culminating with the Phillies—adding him to the 40-man roster to protect him in the upcoming Rule 5 Draft. A surprise in 2010, De Fratus will get a lot of looks this spring, and may break camp with the major league Phillies.

Of course, a plethora of familiar names will get their looks as well.

In the second year of his deal, Danys Baez may be best described as addition by subtraction. He was largely disappointing in 2010, and hopefully, isn’t guaranteed a spot because of the money he is set to make.

On the other end of the spectrum, guys like Antonio Bastardo and David Herndon are making close to nothing. Bastardo has a ton of upside, and it’s clear the organization likes him. However, his change-up is underwhelming, and his fastball/slider combination lacks control.

The long reliever in 2010, Herndon remained on the Phillies roster only because they wanted to keep him in the organization. (They would have had to offer him back to the Angels if they wanted to send him to the minors, since he was a Rule 5 Draft pick.) With guys like Kyle Kendrick, Vance Worley, and Drew Carpenter expected to compete for the fifth starter’s spot in spring training, Herndon may be out of a job once one of those guys loses.

If this article proves anything, it’s that the Phillies have numerous options to replenish the bullpen. Be it adding talented specialists like Feliciano and Uehara, or removing contract albatrosses like Baez, the Phillies can obviously afford to rebuild the bullpen. How they do so may effect the outlook on October 2011. If teams like the ’08 Phillies and ’10 Giants showed us anything, it’s that a talented bullpen goes a long way in competing in October.

With a couple of smart moves by Ruben Amaro Jr. and Co., the Phillies can move from troubled waters, and the Bridge to Lidge can deliver the fans of the Philadelphia Phillies to the promised land once again.  

Read more MLB news on BleacherReport.com

Philadelphia Phillies: 10 Big Questions Facing the Phillies This Offseason

The Philadelphia Phillies face many questions heading into this offseason.  The biggest among them deals with the expiring contract of right fielder Jayson Werth.  Though the questions do not stop there for Ruben Amaro Jr., a man who has had all the answers thus far in his short time as Phillies’ general manager.  

Many controversial moves have helped define Amaro’s gutsy persona in Philadelphia.  He’s become one of the top GMs in the sport and is no stranger to taking chance.  This 2010 team appeared to have it all for the Phillies, though their abrupt exit proved otherwise.  

The 2011 season presents its share of challenges and another chance to continue what has become the Philadelphia dynasty.  The Phillies are one of the best teams in the league and boast a stellar 1-2-3 punch in their rotation.  

In the end though, injuries and inconsistency plagued this team and got the best of them.  Here are 10 questions for the Phillies to ponder this winter.   

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