Ryan Madson to Oakland: Reaction and Analysis

The Oakland Athletics have ponied up $22 million to sign free-agent reliever Ryan Madson for the next three years. The deal was reported by ESPN’s Jerry Krasnick.

Such a deal would have been unthinkable prior to last season. Madson sat out the 2012 through 2014 seasons while dealing with serious injuries. The 35-year-old right-hander’s career appeared to be on the brink of being over, and he latched on with the Kansas City Royals with a minor-league deal prior to the 2015 season. Madson came roaring back onto the scene, and posted a 2.13 ERA over 63.1 innings with the Royals. He had a good strikeout rate, low walk rate, and kept the ball on the ground better than he ever had in his ten-year career.

The Royals got great value from Madson, paying him $850,000 last year to be one of the best middle relievers in baseball. Whether the A’s receive similar value for over $7 million per season is certainly up in the air. Madson was one of the better relief pitchers on the Philadelphia Phillies during their run of dominance from 2007 to 2011, and he does have closing experience.

The Athletics have already Rich Hill, another 35-year-old pitcher who resurrected his career in 2015. Madson likely fits in as an eighth inning option ahead of Sean Doolittle, but could easily close in a pinch if Doolittle continues to suffer through injuries. Overall, however, the move is somewhat puzzling for the Athletics.

The Athletics really went for it at the trade deadline in 2014, acquiring Jon Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel. Those trades were totally out of character for the Athletics, but Billy Beane must have felt 2014 was the year to go for broke. The team cratered after losing Yoenis Cespedes in the Lester trade, and then lost to the Royals in the Wild Card Game.

Beane followed the disappointing 2014 season up by acquiring Ben Zobrist and Billy Butler prior to the 2015 season. He turned Josh Donaldson into Brett Lawrie, even though Donaldson had more years of team control remaining. Donaldson turned into the AL MVP with the Toronto Blue Jays, and Lawrie continued not living up to his full potential. Now, Lawrie may be back on the block. Zobrist got traded, and did bring back some decent prospects. All of the wheeling and dealing leading into the 2015 season resulted in a 68-94 campaign with very little promise going forward. Outside of Sonny Gray, the rotation looks weak. Billy Burns and Mark Canha might be driving the offense going forward. Beane will get a free pass, of course, because he’s a genius. And Moneyball.

The signing of Madson is likely another reach by the A’s to catch a little bit of lightning in a bottle before flipping a hot commodity for more prospects. Oakland had a bad bullpen in 2015, but there are plenty of other areas of weakness that need to be addressed. Signing a 35-year-old reliever with a significant history of injury for $7 million per year cannot be made to fit in any sort of rebuilding plan. Of course, Beane could prove us all wrong and have the A’s shockingly back in contention next year. Don’t count on it, however. By the trade deadline of 2017, expect Ryan Madson to be trying on a new cap and jersey. That is, if he stays healthy.

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