Ryan Madson‘s elbow injury and need for Tommy John surgery doesn’t make the Reds’ decision to sign him any worse or better than it was when they signed him in the first place. The only viable way to judge any signing in retrospect is if it made sense—financially and practically—at the time. By that metric, Madson’s 1-year, $8.5 million deal was a good one for the Reds. He happened to get hurt.
What this does though, is exemplify why those who were suggesting the Madson was “as good or better” than the new Phillies’ closer Jonathan Papelbon were making the common mistake of looking at statistics as the final arbiter rather than a piece of the puzzle in making a decision.
No one should give the Phillies’ baseball operations people credit for choosing Papelbon over Madson. Depending on whom you believe, there was either an offer on the table for Madson to stay with the Phillies for 4-years and $44 million that GM Ruben Amaro Jr. brought to CEO David Montgomery for his customary rubber stamp and the rubber stamp never came; or Amaro considered the deal before exploring his options and choosing Papelbon.
Based on Amaro’s past practice of doling out lucrative contracts for homegrown Phillies’ players, I believe the first scenario. And they got lucky.
Madson’s numbers, when examined in depth, are indeed comparable to Papelbon’s. But at the time, I said that Madson didn’t have enough experience closing nor did he show the same durability and cleanliness of motion that Papelbon has had; in addition to that, Papelbon has gotten the big outs in the post-season consistently. It wasn’t long ago when Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel didn’t give the closer’s job to Madson and even demoted him from the role because he didn’t think Madson could handle it mentally at the time. He did a good job as primary closer in 2011, but that doesn’t mean he’s the best possible option for the future. Giving Madson $44 million—with or without the injury—would’ve been a mistake; giving that money and more to the known quantity in Papelbon isn’t a mistake and that holds true if Papelbon gets hurt or struggles.
Players cannot and should not be assessed on statistics alone. Neither the Reds nor the Phillies did that. It just so happened that the Reds’ choice, predicated by who was in their price range, got hurt. The Phillies got Papelbon.
These things happen and there’s no one to blame or criticize.