Reds better with Cordero ... for nowposted: Monday, November 26, 2007 | Feedback | Print Entry
Given how awful Cincinnati's bullpen was in 2007, going after relief pitching in the free-agent market was a sensible strategy; the Reds handed 270 innings over to 10 pitchers, none of whom could muster an ERA below 5.00 and six of whom posted ERAs over 6.00. And signing Francisco Cordero -- the best relief pitcher on the market -- also makes sense. Behind Cordero, there was a significant dropoff in quality among available relievers. But the size of Cordero's contract and especially its length doesn't make any sense at all.
Cordero is easily the best reliever on the Reds' staff now, and he pushes David Weathers back into a setup role. Jon Coutlangus and Jared Burton can be 11th/12th men on a staff, and Todd Coffey's taterrific 2007 season was really out of character for him (12 homers allowed in 51 innings, after he allowed 12 homers total in 136 innings before '07), so there's some hope he can contribute in the middle.
The Reds now don't have a good bullpen, but it's less dependent on guys like Kirk Saarloos and Mike Stanton and Gary Majewski to soak up innings, particularly if the Reds get a little creative and break 21-year-old right-hander Johnny Cueto in with some relief work. Adding Cordero should be worth about two wins to the Reds in 2008, maybe three if he ends up working in a lot of leveraged situations.
The question now is whether the Reds are getting what they think they're getting. Cordero lost the closer's job in Texas in early 2006, precipitating his inclusion in the Carlos Lee trade two months later. In 2007, he posted career-best walk and strikeout rates, but his stuff wasn't any better than it was in previous years, and while it's not unheard of for a pitcher to suddenly become a star at age 32, it's not common, either. He's also a flyball pitcher with a fairly straight fastball who's moving to a better home run park than the one in which he spent 2007.
It's worth noting, too, that Cordero is now the second highest-paid reliever in baseball, making more in average annual salary on his new deal than the combined salaries of the four LCS closers in 2007. In fact, of the eight playoff teams in 2007, only two, the Indians and the Cubs, employed closers developed outside their organizations, and in Cleveland's case, that closer (Joe Borowski) was a castoff on a one-year, $4 million deal.
The biggest problem with Cordero's contract is, of course, its ridiculous length. As I wrote in the article on the White Sox's signing of Scott Linebrink, of the 11 deals of three years or longer given to free agent relievers in the last two offseasons, three have already been busts and that number will reach five or six by the time those contracts are all through. Reliever performance is too volatile and their injury risk is too high for clubs to hand them three, four, or five years. It is irresponsible for any GM to give a reliever a four-year deal, but it's even more so when the deal soaks up over 10 percent of the signing team's payroll and the GM is only under contract for the first of those four years. There's way too much chance of this deal going south before it's over or even half over, even if it clearly does make the Reds better in 2008.