I can't exactly jump on the Philadelphia Phillies for the Ryan Madson contract extension rumored all Tuesday—four years, $44 million—without admitting that the St. Louis Cardinals have made some poor choices in their day. 2012 will mark the last year of the Cardinals' four year, $41 million deal with Kyle Lohse, after al. In all that time 2011 marked his first healthy season—he threw 188 innings, won 14 games, and stabilized a rotation that found itself without Adam Wainwright without warning.
Even then, it's been a serious mistake. And if the Phillies are reasonably lucky, Ryan Madson will pitch 188 innings over the life of his deal.
The unfortunate thing about relief pitchers is that the better they get, the fewer innings they tend to pitch; Madson has thrown 53 and 61 since emerging as the best reliever on the staff after seasons of 77 and 82 in 2008 and 2009. Now that he's the Phillies' expensive closer he might pitch even fewer innings. One significant injury and he won't reach 188, or 47 innings a year.
And that's why you don't pay closers. The Cardinals' most valuable relievers—Fernando Salas and Jason Motte, each almost identically effective to Ryan Madson over more innings—cost them less than $1 million combined, and when injuries and ineffectiveness wiped out some other relievers the Cardinals called up Lance Lynn and Eduardo Sanchez and got 64 more free innings with an ERA of 2.50.
Ryan Madson is much more effective than Kyle Lohse, and it's true that he pitches in higher leverage situations. But I'd rather pay a guy $40 million in the hopes that he pitches 200 innings four times than in the hopes that he pitches 200 great innings.