On November 7th, 2007, Brad Lidge, a lights out closer for the Houston Astros, was traded (along with Eric Bruntlett) to the Philadelphia Phillies for a 3 player package consisting of speedy outfielder Michael Bourn, reliever Geoff Geary, and 3B prospect Mike Costanzo.
8 months later, after an extremely successful debut with the Phillies, Lidge signed a three-year, $36M (plus $12.5M option) extension with his new team. The deal, which (according to ESPN) was orchestrated by then-Assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr., wasn’t viewed as an overpay; other closers at the time like Joe Nathan and Francisco Cordero got similar money as free agents. Lidge also had a solid track record.
Other than his less-than-great 2006, Lidge was as consistent as any reliever in baseball, and his 2004/2005 peak seasons were phenomenal. What could go wrong?
Everything. Lidge’s 2009 season was a disaster: 58.2 innings with a 7.21 ERA and a -0.8 WAR. He missed 19 games with two knee injuries. His 2010 was a lot better as he posted a 2.96 ERA, however, he was plagued with all sorts of injuries. Lidge missed 46 games with 3 elbow injuries, limiting him to only 45.2 innings. The injuries carried on to 2011 where he pitched only 19.1 innings and the Phillies expectedly declined his $12.5M option for 2012.
The extension is universally viewed as a failure. Over the length of the contract, Lidge pitched 123.2 innings with a 4.73 ERA and produced -1.9 RAR.
But apparently, Ruben Amaro Jr. didn’t learn anything from this failure:
Now, the contract is said to be awaiting approval of the Phillies CEO David Montgomery, and there’s still a possibility that the deal falls apart. However, just the fact that Amaro suggested this deal, after what happened to Lidge, is mind-blowing.
Baseball has progressed. Most front offices do (or at least, should) understand that the closer is a vastly overrated position. Paying a pitcher $10M to pitch 70 innings isn’t a good idea, especially considering how vastly inconsistent most relievers are. Blue Jays fans, which I assume many of you are, will remember the BJ Ryan fiasco: a great example of a “proven closer” signing a long-term deal and bombing.
I’m not suggesting Ryan Madson will follow the exact path of Brad Lidge. They’re different pitchers. Lidge relies heavily on his ridiculous K rate to bail out his below average BB rate. Madson is much more balanced; both his K rate and BB rate are better than average. Madson has also been improving for the past several years, as both his ERA and DIPS have been trending down since 2007, when he became a full-time reliever.
But he’s a reliever. You just don’t sign relievers (not named Mariano Rivera. Let’s face it: the dude’s not human) to a long-term deal, and an expensive one at that. According to FanGraphs, one Win Above Replacement (fWAR) is roughly valued to be around $5M. For Madson to bring back equal value, he has to be worth roughly 9 WAR for the length of the contract. He’s been 8.8 WAR in his career.
Ruben Amaro Jr. isn’t a terrible GM. He acquired Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay; easily the best 1-2 punch in baseball. His team has yet to miss the playoffs during his tenure as GM. But if I was a Phillies fan, and Amaro does extend Madson to the above terms, I’d be clamouring for a new GM.
Update – From MLBTR:
So I guess we’ll have to wait until the CBA is over.
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