Has Ruben Amaro Jr. Met Jim Thome?

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Ruben Amaro Jr. says some of the most ridiculous things in explaining his bizarre decisions.

The quote clipped from this posting on MLB Trade Rumors about the Phillies looking to trade Jim Thome follows:

The ideal situation right now, because he can’t really play defense in the National League, would be for Jim to play in the American League,” Amaro said. “He still has the ability to win a game for us and be productive off the bench. The problem is, the further away he gets from regular at-bats, the more difficult it becomes for him to do that.”

Has Amaro met Thome? Is he forgetting that he signed him last fall and could’ve uttered the above quote verbatim as an explanation of why he wasn’t going to sign him? The thought that Thome could play some first base was ridiculous and, as expected, he’s not happy as a pure pinch-hitter. He can still produce and there are teams—my money’s on the Blue Jays—that can use him.

The Phillies shouldn’t have signed him in the first place.

This might be characterized as the beginning of a potential Phillies’ sell-off. Chase Utley returned to action on Wednesday and the team promptly lost the next two games to the Pirates. But I don’t see any connection between the decision to shop Thome and a housecleaning. It’s more of a similar admission from Amaro that he made a mistake. While not as drastic as when he traded Cliff Lee for prospects and acquired Roy Halladay, then had to bolster the starting rotation the next summer by getting Roy Oswalt and re-signed Lee the next winter, it’s still a do-over.

Amaro’s lucky that the Ryan Madson deal he was said to have offered—link—didn’t go through. After Madson signed with the Reds and got hurt with Tommy John surgery, there would’ve been no fixing that with a “whoops, never mind” and the Phillies would be in even worse shape than they are now.

And where they are now isn’t particularly good either.

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Injury or Not, Madson Was a Good Risk For the Reds

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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.

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Boras Not to Blame for Madson Lowball

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When one is considered the epitome of evil, blame follows that person even when it’s unwarranted.

Because Scott Boras is considered the puppetmaster/hypnotist/Svengali over his clients, he’s being held responsible for Ryan Madson’s fall from a desired multi-year contract worth $40+ million to a 1-year, $8.5 million contract.

But this time, he’s innocent.

In more of an accident of circumstance, Madson was undone by several factors.

Let’s take a look.

The flooded market.

This winter the free agent closer market included: Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Madson, Heath Bell and Joe Nathan. Papelbon replaced Madson in Philadelphia for $50 million over 4-years; Bell signed with the Marlins for $27 million over 3-years; and Nathan took a 2-year, $14.75 million deal from the Rangers. In other moves, the Red Sox traded for Andrew Bailey and the Mets signed the lower-level Frank Francisco.

K-Rod had also made a high-profile hiring of Boras over the summer and has several legitimate gripes with his agent after the failure to submit a list of teams to whom he could not be traded by the Mets; for getting him to waive his 2012 option for free agency and needing to accept arbitration from the Brewers for lack of good offers—he didn’t need an agent to make this array of gaffes.

There are only so many teams that needed a closer and had the money to pay Madson or K-Rod. Like other free agents like Prince Fielder, Madson wasn’t helped by the Dodgers, Yankees and Mets not entering the bidding.

The altered landscape financially and strategically.

For every team like the Phillies that values their closer and is willing to pay him big money, there are eight teams that have decided a closer can be found cheaply or developed.

I don’t believe that the prototypical “anyone” can close—the statistics of clubs winning 95% (or something to that effect) of the games that they lead after eight innings no matter who their closer is can be misleading—but the reluctance to pay someone a huge amount of cash because he racked up saves is growing more prevalent.

In the future, the more thoughtful pitchers who are capable of starting or relieving are going to prefer starting strictly for financial reasons. There’s more money in being a starter.

Teams are shunning the concept of a big money closer. The Rangers in particular decided that Neftali Feliz would have more value as a starter and determined that he could make the transition, so they signed Nathan to replace him and shifted him into the rotation.

Some pitchers are addicted to the rush of being a reliever, but others who are more practical and are capable of doing both will prefer to start for the money.

The reality for Madson and Boras’s calculation.

Boras isn’t stupid. It probably dawned on him after the Phillies deal fell apart and the other dominoes fell that he and Madson might have to take a shorter term deal somewhere. Could he have given this offer to the Red Sox and would they have taken it? Probably. But Madson will put up better numbers in the weaker hitting National League—where’s he’s comfortable and familiar with the hitters—than he might dealing with Fenway Park and the power hitting lineups he’d have to face. With the Reds, he has a great chance of having a big year for a contending team. Apart from Mariano Rivera and K-Rod, there are no big name closers entering free agency after 2012 and Rivera, if he pitches in 2013, will be pitching for the Yankees.

With a great year in Cincinnati, Madson will be back on the market and poised to make a free agent killing again. Will he let his agent use the same strategy that failed this time though? Or will he tell him to get a deal done fast?

This is the world we live in now and blaming Scott Boras for Madson is easy, convenient, ignorant of facts and completely wrong.

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