Ryan Madson’s deal sets a rich market for free agent closers

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Assuming his reported four-year, $44 million contract eventually becomes official, as the first closer from a closer-heavy free agent class to sign Ryan Madson’s deal would set the market extremely high for guys like Jonathan Papelbon, Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Cordero.

They’re surely thrilled with Madson’s deal setting the tone, but the other 29 teams can’t be thrilled with the Phillies paying $44 million for what they hope will be 275 innings or so.

In fact, Alex Speier of WEEI.com notes that Madson is the first reliever since the pre-2008 offseason to get a four-year contract and going back even further than that it’s awfully tough to find more than a few instances of a team not regretting a four-year contract given to a reliever despite all relievers who got a four-year deal being elite at the time.

That doesn’t mean the Phillies will regret giving four years to Madson, as he’s only 30 years old and one of the elite relievers in baseball going back much further than his time as a closer, but it could nudge other teams toward overpaying for older, worse closers and the trickle-down effect may even boost the asking price for top-level setup men.

MLB to crack down on sign stealing

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We’ve had a couple of notable incidents of sign stealing in Major League Baseball over the past couple of years. Most famously, the Red Sox were found to be using Apple Watches of all things to relay signs spied via video feed. Sports Illustrated reported yesterday that there have been other less-publicized and unpublicized incidents as well, mostly with in-house TV cameras — as opposed to network TV cameras — stationed in the outfield and trained on catchers, for the specific purpose of stealing signs.

As such, SI reports, Major League Baseball is cracking down beginning this year. Within the next couple weeks an already-drafted and circulated rule will take effect which will (a) ban in-house outfield cameras from foul pole to foul pole; (b) will limit live broadcasts available to teams to the team’s replay official only, and the replay official will be watched by a league official to keep them from relaying signs to the team; and (c) other TV monitors that are available to the clubs will be on an eight-second delay to prevent real-time sign stealing. There will likewise be limits on TV monitors showing the game feed in certain places like tunnels and clubhouses.

Penalties for violation of the rules will include the forfeiting of draft picks and/or international spending money. General managers will have to sign a document in which they swear they know of know sign-stealing schemes.

As was the case when the Apple Watch incident came up, there will not be any new rules regarding old fashioned sign stealing by runners on second base or what have you, as that is viewed as part of the game. Only the technology-aided sign stealing that has become more prominent in recent years — but which has, of course, existed in other forms for a very, very long time — is subject to the crackdown.

While gamesmanship of one form or another has always been part of baseball, the current wave of sign-stealing is seen as a pace-of-play issue just as much as a fairness issue. Because of the actual sign-stealing — and because of paranoia that any opponent could be stealing signs — clubs have gone to far more elaborate and constantly changing sign protocols. This requires mound meetings and pitchers coming off the rubber in order to re-start the increasingly complex series of signs from dugout to catcher and from catcher to pitcher.

Now, presumably, with these new rules coming online, teams will figure out a new way to cheat. It’s baseball, after all. It’s in their DNA.