Cordero adds stability to Reds bullpen
Addition of star closer allows other relievers to fit into new roles
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- The Reds have reason to expect their bullpen will be improved from last season.
Actually, they have 46 million reasons.
That happens to be the amount of dollars plunked down to get the best free-agent closer available in former Brewer Francisco Cordero. The November signing of Cordero to a four-year contract, with a $12 million fifth-year club option, was considered an offseason coup for Cincinnati. The Reds outbid National League Central rivals Milwaukee and Houston for the right-hander's services.
Cordero's new beginning with the Reds became real with Saturday's reporting of pitchers and catchers and Sunday's first workout.
"It's good to be here and get to know everybody, my new teammates," Cordero said. "I'm excited to see what it's going to be like."
So are Reds fans who became hoarse constantly booing last year's edition of the bullpen. Although former closer David Weathers did a solid job with 33 saves, it was getting to Weathers that was the primary problem.
The seventh inning, and especially the eighth inning, often killed would-be wins in demoralizing fashion. The bullpen owned an NL-high 5.13 ERA and NL-low 34 saves in 2007, while Reds opponents scored more runs in the eighth (123) than any other.
By adding Cordero, the Reds can take what worked best last year -- Weathers -- and move him to set up in the eighth. Right-hander Jared Burton, another bright spot in the second half of 2007, is also a late-inning positive.
"What [Cordero] does is it allows you to go backwards -- closer and backwards," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "This is going to be a big part of our team, any team, especially now with guys not having complete games. Most of the pressure falls on the bullpen, especially early in the year when guys aren't really ready to throw a whole bunch of pitches or go deep in a game."
The rest of the roles are up for grabs for a broad slate of pitchers. Mike Stanton, Bill Bray, Jon Coutlangus and Kent Mercker are some of the lefties, while Todd Coffey, Gary Majewski and Marcus McBeth are among the right-handers.
"That first month, especially, that bullpen comes into play big time," Baker said. "If you can shorten the game to 6 1/3, 6 2/3, 7, 7 1/3 [innings], you can start going in fractions and set it up. You've got guys in position to succeed rather than just who's the strongest."
If the Reds' bullpen can protect leads for starters in the sixth-through-eighth innings, it will be up to Cordero to be the anchor man in the ninth. A two-time All-Star, including last season, he converted 44 of 51 save opportunities with Milwaukee and posted a 2.98 ERA. He has 177 saves lifetime with the Tigers, Rangers and Brewers.
As a high-profile free agent acquisition, Cordero understands that expectations to deliver results are high.
"I always say I'm not guaranteeing that I'm going to help the team win the World Series," Cordero said. "The only thing I can guarantee is that I will do my best. I'll try to do what I do best. I'll try to save every game I can and help my team in any way. I don't put any pressure on me. I just have to go game by game, save every game and look at the results at the end."