This past winter, the Philadelphia Phillies signed free agent closer Jonathan Papelbon to a $50 million contract that instantly made Papelbon the highest-paid relief pitcher in the game’s history. It was a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a pitcher that throws 60 to 70 innings per season but GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has never been shy about opening up his wallet to bring in a big player.
It’s difficult to fulfill a contract that pays an average of $12.5 million per season but Papelbon has been very good so far in 2012. He has converted 36 of 40 saves and his 2.37 ERA and 4.82 strikeout to walk ratio are phenomenal numbers that earned Papelbon a spot on the NL All-Star team.
The problem this season with the Phillies’ bullpen hasn’t been Papelbon though – it’s been the dropoff from Antonio Bastardo’s 2011 to 2012 campaign, the injuries to Michael Stutes, Jose Contreras, and David Herndon, and the fact that the Phillies have had to rely so much on their young and inexperienced Triple-A relievers: Justin De Fratus, Jeremy Horst, Phillippe Aumont, Michael Schwimer, Jake Diekman, Joe Savery, and B.J. Rosenberg have all seen substantial action, while new acquisitions like Chad Qualls and Josh Lindblom have been largely ineffective.
The Phillies do need some bullpen help if they want to contend again in 2013, but it may be simpler if it comes internally – simply by players like Bastardo and Stutes re-emerging as stalwarts in the bullpen. Charlie Manuel was recently quoted as saying that he wants to add another big-name pitcher to the ‘pen, but that could range in the area of $5 to $10 million per season, and that’s an awful lot to spend on a relief pitcher, considering the team already has three $20 million starters and Papelbon.
The top candidate to join the team would be Ryan Madson, as the team’s longtime setup man and eventual closer departed for Cincinnati in free agency on a one-year deal. Madson then suffered a season-ending injury before throwing a pitch, and it’s highly unlikely the Reds pick up his ’13 option, especially with the success they had from Aroldis Chapman in 2012.
If Madson is willing to take a hometown discount, that would be the best setup/closer combo in the game, hands down. Other options include Brandon League, Mike Adams, Jonathan Broxton, or Jon Rauch, although Madson is by far the biggest name of the group.