Sides differ on losing Cordero to Reds
Melvin asserts he didn't get chance to match offer
By TOM HAUDRICOURT
Posted: April 7, 2008
Milwaukee Brewers general manager Doug Melvin didn't think he was going to lose Francisco Cordero last winter.
The veteran closer indicated that he wanted to return in 2008, noting that Melvin resurrected his career by acquiring him from Texas the year before. Melvin told Cordero's agent, Bean Stringfellow, that he would offer $40 million over four years, then boosted it to $42 million.
Melvin had to gulp hard to go that high, even though Cordero had been magnificent in his 1½ seasons with the Brewers, converting 60 of 68 save opportunities.
"When we went to $42 million, I thought he'd take our offer," Melvin said.
What Melvin didn't know at the time was that Stringfellow was looking to establish a new standard for paying a closer. After the 2005 season, the New York Mets set the bar by giving Billy Wagner $43 million over four years to leave Philadelphia.
The Cincinnati Reds, desperate for an established closer after blowing 28 save opportunities in 2007, met Stringfellow's asking price of $46 million. It was a substantial blow to the Brewers' plans for '08.
The sides differ on how negotiations played out in the final days. Not big on agents shopping his offers around, Melvin asked Stringfellow to respond by the day after Thanksgiving. Melvin said he never was given a chance to match the Reds' offer.
Stringfellow admitted that he wasn't happy about the deadline. But he insisted that Melvin never showed any inclination to go beyond $42 million.
So, for an extra $4 million, Cordero overlooked his rescue from exile in Texas by the Brewers. As usual, money talks and the other stuff walks.
"When it dragged on and we didn't hear back, you started wondering if they were waiting for a better offer," Melvin said. "We did somewhat put a deadline on them. We wanted to know before we went to the winter meetings.
"We felt they had enough time to find out what his market value was. I don't know if Cincinnati came in at the last minute or if they had been negotiating."
When the Brewers and Reds square off for the first time in 2008 tonight at Miller Park, Cordero will be wearing the uniform of the enemy. The 32-year-old right-hander is off to another strong start, with three scoreless outings and one save in as many chances.
The relief corps the Brewers will send at the Reds bears little resemblance to the 2007 outfit, in large part because of Cordero's defection. They have a new closer in Eric Gagne, whose $10 million deal represents what the Brewers were willing to pay to Cordero in the first year of their four-year offer.
A few days before Cordero defected to Cincinnati, word leaked that free-agent set-up man Scott Linebrink had agreed to a four-year deal with the Chicago White Sox. Just like that, the Brewers were missing two of their top three late-inning relievers, having retained only Derrick Turnbow.
The previous week, Melvin picked up reliever Guillermo Mota from the New York Mets in exchange for catcher Johnny Estrada, who was released later and signed with Washington. Mota basically was run out of town by fans irate over his 5.76 earned run average in 52 appearances.
Before departing for the winter meetings in Nashville, Melvin reached agreement with free-agent reliever David Riske on a three-year deal worth at least $13 million. Had he retained Cordero, Melvin would not have been willing to do the Riske contract.
"It might have been tougher to get David Riske, because of the multi-year deal," Melvin said. "It turned out we're paying Gagne $10 million, anyway, but only for one year. You have to look at it over the three-year period.
"But we wanted to improve the depth of our bullpen even if Cordero came back."
Shortly after signing Riske, the Brewers traded for rubber-armed Pittsburgh reliever Salomon Torres. The next day, they stunned many throughout baseball with their offer to Gagne, who had pitched poorly in an unfamiliar set-up role in Boston after being acquired from Texas on July 31.
When the smoke cleared, the Brewers had a new closer and a deep, experienced group of late-inning relievers to use in front of him: Turnbow, Mota, Riske, Torres and left-hander Brian Shouse.
It will take some time for specific roles to be determined for each reliever but manager Ned Yost made the most of his many options as the Brewers bolted to a 5-1 record in the first week of the season.
"We have more options out there this year," Melvin said. "Last year, we were almost holding tryouts for the last couple of spots. Now, we have experience, durability and versatility.
"They all have to be ready from the sixth inning on. Their roles may change over the course of the year. Ned can go with the hot hands."
Gagne made Milwaukee fans nervous with his outing on opening day in Chicago, when he surrendered a tying, three-run homer by Kosuke Fukudome that forced the Brewers to go into overtime to win.
Gagne, 32, looked much better Saturday in nailing down a 5-4 victory over San Francisco with a 1-2-3 ninth, showing better command than earlier in the week in the rain at Wrigley Field.
Cordero still throws his potent fastball in the 95- to 97-mph range, with a hard, nasty slider. Gagne has lost a few mph off his fastball, now topping out at 94 mph, since suffering arm and back injuries in 2005 and '06.
To compensate for that drop in velocity, Gagne depends more than ever on his changeup and curveball, which he threw for strikes against the Giants.
"I'm healthy now, so I just worry about throwing strikes," Gagne said. "I don't throw as hard as I used to but I still throw really hard, compared to average.
"Last year was more of a rehab year. Right now, my arm feels good and my body feels good. It's good to be on the mound and not have to worry about all that."
Time will tell whether the Brewers are worse off for losing Cordero. If Gagne flops over the course of the season, Melvin will let him walk away. If Gagne flourishes, he'll probably follow Cordero's lead and chase the money.
" 'Coco' is going to help the Reds," Melvin said. "That was one of their big weaknesses last year. But we feel pretty secure with Gagne. It's all about the mental make-up. He's been through it before."