January has a way of making baseball fans go a little crazy, as the hot stove cools down while the light at the end of the offseason tunnel isn’t bright enough to start counting down the days just yet. We pass the days with trade ideas that will never materialize and by dissecting every last inch of the roster just in case we missed something the first three times we did it. The Yankees roster is set for the most part, aside from the bench and maybe another starting pitcher, so forgive me as I throw something against the wall: the Yankees should look into signing Ryan Madson as a starter.
Madson, as you know, is hung out to dry as a free agent closer at the moment, sorta like Rafael Soriano was last winter. Both are Scott Boras clients too, so they have more than one thing in comment. Unlike Soriano though, no one will have to forfeit a draft pick to sign Madson, who is one of those funny Modified Type-A Free Agents per the new CBA. He also doesn’t have the same history of elbow problems, though Madson is no stranger to the DL himself. He missed about four weeks this past season with a hand contusion, about two months last year after he broke his toe kicking a chair, and another two months in 2007 with a shoulder strain.
So Madson is just sitting out there begging to be signed. Just about every big market team has an established closer, so the demand for his services doesn’t appear to be great. Please note that we said the same exact thing about Soriano at this time last year. There has been speculation that he might be willing to take a one-year deal in hopes of hitting free agency next offseason as the top free agent closer, but nothing more concrete than that. Boras has gone for these “pillow contracts” before, namely with Adrian Beltre and Carlos Pena, and he knows that he and his client would make a ton more money if he hits free agency as an effective starter next year. Just watch what Edwin Jackson (another Boras guy!) will get compared to what the Phillies gave Jonathan Papelbon this winter.
Madson, 30, has the requisite three pitches to start, though he doesn’t use his slider all that much in relief. He’s a fastball-changeup specialist like Ricky Romero, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jaime Garcia. Those three rely on their top two offerings heavily and mix in a breaking ball roughly 8-10% of the time. Madson has started before, all throughout the minors and for 17 generally ugly starts in 2006, so he has some experience in the role. He hasn’t been over 100 IP since 2006, but 30-year-old pitchers are well past the point of coddling. Fatigue down the stretch would be an obvious concern, but I think that applies to all pitchers these days. I don’t put too much stock into this stuff, but he has pitched in a small park and in the playoffs and World Series and all that. Can’t hurt.
The table to the right shows Madson’s semi-projected stats as a starter using his last three seasons and the Rule of 17. Walk rate has historically held constant when moving between roles, but strikeout rate, homer rate (in terms of homers per plate appearances with contact), and BABIP all decline by approximately 17% with the move into the rotation. That projected performance — 22.3 K%, 6.5 BB%, 2.9 HR%, and .360 BABIP — is right in line with what CC Sabathia (23.4 K%, 6.2 BB%, 2.5 HR%) and Felix Hernandez (23.0 K%, 7.0 BB%, 2.8 HR/9) did in 2011, save that sky-high BABIP (.318 and .307, respectively). Now I highly doubt Madson would turn into another CC or Felix if he’s plugged into the rotation, but the point is that he’s an elite reliever that figures to be a pretty good starter even though his perfprmance will take a hit with the transition.
Like I said, I’m just thinking out loud here. If Boras and Madson are willing to take a straight one-year deal with no options for like, $8-10M, then I think I’d prefer to see the Yankees go this route rather than sink multiple years or too many prospects into Edwin Jackson or Matt Garza or someone like that. Theoretically, if it doesn’t work out, you can just dump him in the bullpen for the remainder of the season and employ the world’s most overqualified sixth inning guy (though Madson is better than either Soriano or David Robertson in my eyes). The odds of a move like this happening are basically zero though, especially since the Yankees already have a prime bullpen-to-rotation candidate that they’ve decided not to employ. It’s probably just the crazy January air talking, but Madson as a starter makes a tiny bit of sense for both parties.