Fulfillment arrived for Ryan Madson in the form of a phone call from Royals manager Ned Yost. On Saturday morning, Yost reached out to Madson to inform him he would be a member of the team’s opening-day roster.
Perspective arrived in a second phone call from Jim Fregosi, Jr., the scout who signed Madson with Philadelphia in 1998, and the man who later, as a Royals executive, encouraged his employers to take a flier on the former Phillies closer. Fregosi congratulated Madson and reminded him of his accomplishment. After three years lost to Tommy John surgery, he could return to the big leagues.
“It felt good,” Madson said on Sunday afternoon after the Royals announced their roster for Monday’s season opener against the White Sox. “I really, genuinely smiled, and had a good moment there.”
The decision culminated weeks of internal discussion as the Royals settled the final spot in the bullpen. The team optioned southpaw Brian Flynn, who had been one of their most impressive relievers all spring, and added Madson to the 40-man roster. They also kept outfielder Paulo Orlando, a 29-year-old Brazilian, as the fifth member of their bench.
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Manager Ned Yost referred to the debate between Madson and Flynn as “the hardest roster decision I had to make ever.” Acquired in exchange for Aaron Crow during the winter, Flynn converted to a relief role and excelled. He finished spring with a 2.40 ERA and 14 strikeouts in 15 innings.
“Brian Flynn did everything he could do to make this club,” Yost said. “He was fantastic all spring long, but we had that gentleman’s agreement with Madson that if another club wanted him on their 25-man opening-day roster we would let him go.”
At this time a year, teams often opt to stockpile talent, for fear of losing assets to other clubs. Though Madson was on a minor-league deal through May 1, general manager Dayton Moore explained, the team worried another team would offer him a major-league contract. The Royals had agreed to let Madson leave if that occurred.
Moore acknowledged the roster machinations played a significant role in the debate, but stressed Madson earned his opportunity.
“Ryan pitched well,” Moore said. “Brian had options. We felt that it was the right thing to do.”
During the spring, Yost was complimentary of Madson’s performance but wary of its permanence. Madson tore his ulnar collateral ligament in the spring of 2012 and failed to properly recover. He sat out all of 2014.
Madson will earn $850,000 as a member of the big-league roster. He mentioned often this spring how the club treated him with care and integrated him into their clubhouse. He did not feel like a player viewed as a lottery ticket.
“I wasn’t just a fill-in,” Madson said. “Like, ‘Oh, give him a locker and let him throw the ball every couple days.’ That was way more than I expected.”
Madson posted a 3.00 ERA in nine Cactus League outings. He did not pitch on back-to-back days, which Yost worried would become an issue once the season began. But the desire to keep Madson in the organization trumped those concerns.
“There were clubs that wanted him on their 25-man roster and our gut just told us that we can’t let this kid go,” Yost said. “He is throwing too good. He is an experienced major-league reliever with closer experience. He looks healthy after three years and his stuff was great. His fastball is back up to 94 miles an hour with a devastating change-up.
“He is a guy that we can envision — if he stays healthy — mixing in with Herrera, Wade Davis and Hoch when he gets back. It was a tough decision, but we couldn’t let him get away.”