Former Phillie Ryan Madson thriving after long road back to MLB


Former Phillie Ryan Madson thriving after long road back to MLB

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One or 2 percent. That was it.

That was the chance that Ryan Madson gave himself of ever pitching again in the big leagues.

Once a dominant closer with the Phillies, a telltale twinge in the right elbow that resulted in Tommy John surgery had ushered Madson toward a premature retirement. He was content with what he had accomplished in baseball, even if he was frustrated by the finish.

"I thought I would bounce right back. I did everything everybody wanted me to do," Madson said this week. "I did everything under the sun trying to get back, and it took me getting released for the first time in my career, not being in the major leagues since being called up in 2003, to really feel that punch. And it knocked me down. It almost knocked me out."

It didn't do that, though. Not by a longshot.

After signing with the American League champion Kansas City Royals in the offseason, Madson arrived in spring training with no guarantees. Somehow, he earned a spot in their vaunted bullpen, and then validated his spring performances with a dynamic start to the regular season.

Madson has appeared in 17 games and has a 1.83 ERA, the best of the 34-year-old reliever's 10-year career. He has struck out 20 with just four walks, every bit as dominant as he was in Philly.

"It really is remarkable what he's doing right now," said fellow Royals pitcher Chris Young, the AL's reigning comeback player of the year. "Granted, I never played with him, but I've played against him, and his stuff is as good as I've ever seen."

Madson spent most of his career in Philadelphia, even auditioning for a season as a starter, before heading to the bullpen full-time. His best year came in 2011, when he took over the closer role following injuries to Brad Lidge and Jose Contreras, and finished with 32 saves.

He parlayed those numbers into a deal with Cincinnati for 2012, and that's when the elbow injuries began. Madson had surgery that spring and never pitched for the Reds. He never pitched for the Los Angeles Angels, either. He signed with them the following year but spent the entire season on the disabled list, never getting in a game before getting released.

Madson came to grips with the end of his career, happily retreating into family life. He has five children, ages 1 to 9, and the life of a doting father appealed to him. He enjoyed being able to welcome them home from school, being home for dinner every night.

For some reason, though, he never formally retired.

There was always that 1 or 2 percent.

"There was always a small buzz that I could come back," Madson said, "but I knew it was so far away. So much work had to be done. Even guys that do retire and stay retired, they have that 1 or 2 percent that they want to go back and play, for years. I don't know how many years that lasts. But I think I was in that category. I thought I was truly done."

That is where his story begins to mirror the "The Rookie," that Disney film based on the real-life comeback of Jim Morris, who went from teaching science to pitching in the big leagues.

Madson started working with children of his friends, teaching proper fundamentals. Then he started working with a standout high school prospect near his home in California, and that led to a serendipitous meeting with Jim Fregosi Jr., who had once scouted Madson in high school.

"He works for the Royals now," Madson said, "and that's how I got in."

Madson had decided to give it one more shot. The Royals had provided the opportunity.

There was no assurance he would have a job, especially considering Kansas City was already armed with baseball's best bullpen. But it didn't take long for Madson to begin raising eyebrows.

"My first thought was, `OK, why did we sign this guy?' Guy hasn't pitched in three years and last time he tried, he wasn't very successful at it," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "So then I went out the first day of live batting practice and watched him throw BP and it knocked my eyes out.

"From that point on," Yost said, "every time he threw, I made sure I was there to watch."

During his retirement, Madson explained, he had grown steadfast in his Christianity. So he took it as a sign that he was getting baptized the same day the Royals called to offer him a job.

Madson is the first to admit the season is still young, the sample size small. But with the Royals leading the AL Central heading into an off day Thursday, the veteran right-hander is just happy to be pitching in the big leagues again, in games that really matter.

"Everybody in this bullpen has good stuff. They pitch lights-out," he said. "You have to keep up. But it's a good thing. It's a very good thing."

Why Phillies shouldn't pay J.T. Realmuto $100 million or more

Why Phillies shouldn't pay J.T. Realmuto $100 million or more

The Phillies have a lot of difficult decisions to make this offseason. A decision on a new manager needs to be finalized. Half of the starting infield is likely to be changed, not to mention the desire to upgrade at least 40 percent of the starting rotation.

Relative to those decisions, signing J.T. Realmuto to a contract extension looks simple. Most Phillies fans feel that way.  

But is it a no-brainer if the terms are in the neighborhood of the 5 years and $112 million that Corey Seidman recently suggested? Let’s examine some of the key talking points.

"J.T. Realmuto is the best catcher in baseball"

That statement has been made plenty of times over the past year. It might be true. He’s certainly the most complete catcher. I’m not certain that Realmuto’s versatility makes him more valuable Gary Sanchez and the sheer power he brings to the Yankees. Sanchez did have an awful postseason. But you do have to be there to be bad there. Regardless, it’s unquestionable that Realmuto is on the short list of top catchers in baseball.

But should that conversation even matter?

If you look at Realmuto solely as a hitter, he’d probably fit in somewhere between the 65th and 80th best everyday batter this past season. His .820 OPS ranked 69th amongst qualifiers in MLB. Next on that list, 70th with an .819 OPS, is Rhys Hoskins. I don’t imagine many Phillies fans would be lining up right now to give Hoskins $22 million-plus per year. 

This is where you point out Realmuto’s world-class defense at the diamond’s backbone position.

There’s no doubt Realmuto is the best in baseball at controlling the run game. He’s topped 31 percent in the caught stealing department in each of the last four seasons, including a mind-boggling 47 percent this past season. Baseball Prospectus measured Realmuto as the fourth-best defensive catcher in 2019 when factoring throwing, blocking pitchers and pitch-framing.  

That invites the question: What did Realmuto’s great defense mean as far as overall run prevention for the Phillies this season? The short answer is not much. The Phillies ended up allowing 66 more runs in 2019 as opposed to the season before. While it would be a fool’s errand to blame Realmuto for the regression of the Phillies' pitching staff, it’s worth pointing out that Realmuto’s defense, or any player’s defense for that matter, is not as valuable as is conventionally believed. 

Effective pitching prevents runs. Everything else is window dressing.

In all actuality, Realmuto’s position should count as a reason for being cautious about signing him to a long-term, big-money deal. The physical rigors associated with catching are a reason to think Realmuto’s production will decline within the body of this deal, which would likely begin with his age-30 season in 2020. Not to mention that if the Phillies are able to work Realmuto down to the 110 starts in a season that Gabe Kapler mentioned as a desired target prior to his firing, that’s 45 to 50 starts Realmuto isn’t giving you that a position player theoretically could. 

"The Phillies can't afford to lose Realmuto"

This argument basically revolves around two main points: 

1. The Phillies traded their top pitching prospect and an everyday player for Realmuto. It would be foolish to lose him for nothing after that.

2. The Phillies currently don’t have enough good players to be World Series contenders. You cannot allow one already here to leave.

The first point is an easy one to counter. Past decisions should not dictate future ones. If signing Realmuto to a deal at a certain price point is not what’s best for the organization moving forward, it should not matter what it took to acquire him.

As for the second point, signing Realmuto might preclude the Phillies from adding multiple good players in the future. Would the Phillies be better served utilizing a much smaller portion of the $112 million theoretically pegged for Realmuto to sign a middle tier catcher, a la Travis d’Arnaud, then trade Realmuto for another piece or two while contributing the rest of the financial savings towards an elite pitcher like Stephen Strasburg or an elite hitter like Anthony Rendon? I’d argue yes.  

More simply put, the Phillies have a lot of holes to fill and spending major money on a good, not great hitter currently in his prime seasons that’s already in-house will not change your championship timeline.

By all accounts, Realmuto is a good clubhouse figure. He’s certainly an all-star caliber talent. The Phillies should want to keep him. But there is a price where it make sense and a price where it does not. They have to be very careful about knowing that line.

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Phillies hire new scouting director Brian Barber away from Yankees

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Phillies hire new scouting director Brian Barber away from Yankees

Brian Barber is the Phillies new director of amateur scouting.

The team announced the appointment on Tuesday afternoon.

Barber, 46, pitched in the major leagues with the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals. He comes to the Phillies after spending the last 18 years as a member of the New York Yankees amateur scouting department. He spent the last 10 years in the high-ranking position of national crosschecker.

Barber replaces Johnny Almaraz, who stepped down from the position in early September. Almaraz came to the Phillies from the Atlanta Braves in the fall of 2014 and presided over the last five drafts. 

It had been widely assumed that the Phillies would replace Almaraz with Greg Schilz, their No. 2 man in amateur scouting. Schilz, who joined the Phillies as assistant scouting director in the fall of 2016 after 12 years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, was a finalist for the position, but the team ultimately decided to go outside the organization for the hire.

Barber, who was influential in identifying Yankees power hitter Aaron Judge as a first-round talent in 2013, is the latest man with Yankees roots to join the Phillies organization. Major League bench coach Rob Thomson joined the Phillies before the 2018 season after 28 seasons in the Yankees organization, including 10 on the big-league coaching staff.

The Phillies, of course, could add another former Yankee to the organization in the coming days. Former Yankees catcher and manager Joe Girardi remains a top candidate for the Phillies’ open managerial job. He had a second interview with team officials in Philadelphia on Monday. Buck Showalter and Dusty Baker are the other candidates for the post. The Phils could announce a hire as soon as Thursday, which is an off day in the World Series.

Girardi is also a candidate for managerial openings with the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs. He has interviewed with both teams.

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