Don’t look now, but the Houston Astros might have a few more dollars to spend going into the 2014 season.
If owner Jim Crane is to be believed according to Brian Taggart of MLB.com, a few here really means something like $30 million or more (depending the results of their television situations) given a potential $10 million payroll increase. While that kind of money probably won’t get them the star slugging outfielder or stud ace they need for the future, it should at least give them some wiggle room to fill some urgent needs, even if they happen to be risky.
Astros, meet Ryan Madson.
Houston fans have already seen this all season long, but if there was any hole that went deeper with a 2013 squad full of them, it was the team’s atrocious excuse of a bullpen. Combined, they were an absolutely mind-boggling -5.4 fWAR for the season.
This was of course exacerbated when they shipped closer Jose Veras off to the Detroit Tigers at the trade deadline (even though it was the right deal), with the Astros exhausting just about all of the options they had and eventually landing on 28-year old Josh Fields, who was named as the closer mostly because he was seemingly the only reliever who could actually get outs regularly.
But with a 4.97 ERA through 38 innings on the season thanks mostly to a 1.89 HR/9, let’s just say that his appointing to the closer’s chair is more by default than deserved.
Enter Madson, the former Philadelphia Phillies setup man/closer, and an established quantity on his way back from Tommy John surgery. He’s coming off being paid $3.25 million by the Los Angeles Angels in a bargain deal that turned out to be a bust, and it’s fair to say that another team won’t be making that mistake again this offseason, even if his agent is Scott Boras.
For teams like the Astros, it might as well be an open invitation for a make-good contract.
Even with the risk factor around the 33-year old, Houston is essentially in a “anything with an arm” mode, and Madson may be the closest they could come to getting an Established Closer for well below market price. That designation is used with a bit of facetiousness, but to be fair, the righty did have an established track record as one of the top relievers in the league before his arm fell apart on him.
Given that he hasn’t thrown a big-league pitch in two seasons, he could be in a position where basically any guaranteed contract will be good enough to be considered, and while other teams may decide to take a flier on him, it’s very conceivably for the Astros to outbid the rest of the field and still pay him significantly less than they did Veras’ one year (plus option) contract.
For the Astros, it would give them the potential closer that they desperate need, or at the very least a stable presence in a bullpen that’s going to be liable to fall apart at any point as it’s currently constructed. Even if someone does emerge next season, they could potentially move Madson as a trade chip as they did with Veras.
So why would Madson make Houston his make-good destination despite being a west coast guy? Well, where else could he be given a near-immediate shot at the top of the bullpen?
At this state of his career, it’s perhaps the last chance that the former closer will have a chance of potentially sniffing a closer-type contract; and while the Astros would only serve as a make-good destination and proving ground on that road, the two’s mutual needs make them a pretty good match for a win-win deal.