CONTRACT KILLERS

November 21, 2011

Apparently the first entry on Ruben Amaro Jr.'s off-season to-do list was Throw gobs of money at a closer. Last week the Phillies' G.M. was reportedly close to giving incumbent stopper Ryan Madson a four-year, $44 million contract, which would have been the fifth-largest deal ever for a reliever. But by the weekend Amaro moved on to bigger things, signing free agent Jonathan Papelbon away from the Red Sox for four years and $50 million—the most lucrative reliever contract ever. History suggests that spending big, in years and cash, on free-agent closers is a mistake. Here's how the five biggest pre-Papelbon closer deals have panned out; in terms of WAR (wins above replacement, 3.0 being a solid figure for a closer), teams have generally gotten less bang for their bucks as the years have gone by. (WAR data from baseball-reference.com.)

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[The following text appears within a chart. Please see hardcopy or PDF for actual chart.]

MARIANO RIVERA

Yankees 2008--10, $45 million

FRANCISCO CORDERO

Reds 2008--11, $46 million

BILLY WAGNER

Mets 2006--09, $43 million

B.J. RYAN

Blue Jays 2006--10, $47 million

JOE NATHAN

Twins 2008--11, $47 million

KEY

WAR FOR SEASON

DID NOT PLAY THAT SEASON

1ST YEAR

2ND YEAR

3RD YEAR

4TH YEAR

5TH YEAR

WAR

4.0

3.0

2.0

1.0

0.0

-1.0

PHOTOJOHN BIEVER (RIVERA)
PHOTOAL TIELEMANS (CORDERO) PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (RYAN) PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (WAGNER) PHOTOCHUCK SOLOMON (NATHAN) PHOTOWINSLOW TOWNSON (PAPELBON)JONATHAN PAPELBON

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)