Thinking Out Loud: Ryan Madson

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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.

The Advantage of Money

Worth every penny. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

For the last decade and a half, the Yankees have had two very distinct and undisputed advantages over every other team in the league. They are the only club with Mariano Rivera working the ninth inning, and they have the most money. The former has given them countless stress-free innings and wins, but the latter has brought both good and bad. You don’t need to do much more than take a cursory look around the league to see that it’s easy to spend money, but much more difficult to spend money wisely.

Like every other team, the Yankees have had their fair share of free agent duds. Mistakes come with the territory, but the Yankees have made bigger mistakes because they play in the deep end of the talent pool. The Carl Pavanos and Jaret Wrights and Kei Igawas … there’s only one team that can make mistakes like that and not miss a beat, but those mistakes aren’t without consequence. Contrary to popular belief, the Yankees do have a finite amount of money, and blowing $40M on Pavano means you have $40M less to spend elsewhere. That’s the reality of the situation.

Over the last three offseasons, the Yankees have shied away from free agency to a certain extent. They did offer Cliff Lee more guaranteed money ($148M) than either the Rangers ($138M) or Phillies ($120M), but otherwise they’ve signed just one free agent to a contract worth $10M+ over the last three years*, and that was the ownership-mandated Rafael Soriano. Pedro Feliciano is the only other player they’ve signed to a multi-year contract since the ’08-’09 offseason. The batch of non-Lee free agent pitchers during the last three winters is highlighted by John Lackey, Randy Wolf, Erik Bedard, Joel Pineiro, Mark Buehrle, Hiroki Kuroda, Roy Oswalt, C.J. Wilson, Yu Darvish, and Edwin Jackson. There are no CC Sabathia‘s in that group, no one comparable to Lee.

* Not counting the new contracts for Rivera, Andy Pettitte, and Derek Jeter. Those are clearly special cases.

There’s only one team that could afford to offer Sabathia the richest pitching contract in history on the first day of free agency and use it as a starting point for negotiations, and sure enough that’s the team that got him. That is the advantage of money. Having the ability to blow everyone else out of the water for elite talent. Those last two words are key, because those players are in short supply. The one or two or three win type players are interchangeable in a sense, because there are other guys capable of providing the same production at similar prices. The Sabathias and Lees, those fellas are far from interchangeable. If you don’t get them, you’re out of luck, as the Yankees learned last winter. Everyone else, eh not so much.

There were no available elite players who fit the Yankees needs this offseason, at least not in their eyes. I think Darvish is going to be pretty good and you probably do as well, but at the end of the day we really have no idea. I don’t know, you don’t know, and the Yankees don’t know either. But they do know more about him that you or I probably ever will, and they obviously felt he wasn’t worth the price, a price commonly associated with elite pitchers. Given how much success the team’s pro scouting department has had lately, I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Same deal with Gio and Wilson, those were two non-elite players at elite cost. Having the advantage of money is marginalized when you start overpaying for players that aren’t worth overpaying for.

Is this slow offseason a bore? Of course. Are the Yankees still a really good team? Obviously. They need a starting pitcher, really just one to bump Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia down to the three and four spots of the rotation, where they belong. Anything after that is gravy. As I’ve said before, the Yankees don’t need that pitcher today, just at some point later in the season and before the playoffs. I think we’d all have realized by now the World Series isn’t won in the offseason after living through it so many times. The Yankees have the ability to top any offer for elite players, but just one of those guys have fit their needs in the last three offseasons. Spending big on second and third tier players just because they fit a need often winds up being counterproductive at this point of the year.

Update: Yankees, Nakajima still far apart in talks

Monday: Heyman issued a correction; the deadline is Friday, not Tuesday. I knew it was later in the week, that made more sense based on when the winning bid was announced.

Sunday: Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Hiroyuki Nakajima are still far apart in their contract talks. The CBS Sports scribe says the deadline to get a deal worked out is Tuesday, not later in the week like I’d assumed. The Yankees won the infielder’s negotiating rights with a $2.5M bid in early-December.

Andruw Jones agreed to terms on Friday, just two days after we heard the two sides weren’t close to a deal. So yeah, this stuff can come together quickly. Nakajima is apparently “highly motivated” to play in MLB next season, and his agent even broached the idea of a sign-and-trade a few weeks ago. The Yankees haven’t discussed the idea with anyone though. I’m guessing he’ll sign for three years and about $7.5M, and not be traded before the season. Very curious to see how this whole thing plays out.

Open Thread: Scott Proctor

(Al Bello/Getty Images)

In a lot of ways, Scott Proctor personifies the Joe Torre era bullpens. He had a modicum of success in 2006 (3.96 FIP) but was overworked to the extreme, appearing in 83 games and throwing 102.1 relief innings. Unsurprisingly, his performance suffered in the next year (5.56 FIP) and he was traded to the Dodgers for Wilson Betemit at the deadline. Proctor, who battled alcoholism during his time in New York, then bounced from the Dodgers to the Marlins to Tommy John surgery to the Braves then back to the Yankees last year.

Proctor turns 35 today, and there’s a pretty decent chance he’s thrown his last Major League pitch. If so, his final act on a big league field will be giving up Evan Longoria’s walk-off, wildcard clinching homerun in Game 162 to cement The Collapse. It was his 56th pitch of the game, as he was again laying it all out there and doing what the team asked. More important relievers were resting up for the playoffs and Proctor was disposable, so he bit the bullet and threw the most pitches he’d thrown in a single game since Sept. 16th, 2005. That was also part of the problem, Proctor never refused the ball and was always available. Honorable, yes, but chances are he cut his own career short.

* * *

Here is tonight’s open thread. The Nets, Knicks, and Devils are playing tonight, but Time Warner customers won’t be able to watch those last two teams because the Dolans pulled MSG due to a contract dispute. You folks can talk about whatever you like here, just be cool.

John Sickels’ Top 20 Yankees Prospects

John Sickels of Minor League Ball published his list of the top 20 Yankees prospects over the weekend, a list that is unsurprisingly topped by Jesus Montero. Montero, a Grade A prospect, is followed by Gary Sanchez (B+) and four B-prospects: Manny Banuelos, Dellin Betances, Mason Williams, and Dante Bichette Jr. Click through for his brief individual write-ups and grade explanations. I’ve found myself disagreeing with Sickels more than any other publication because I think he relies on stats a little too much, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s important to see different opinions of players.