|Cordero ranks 12th on the all-time saves list with 327.|
That is second among active players, trailing only Mariano Rivera.
The Reds made a huge splash in free agency when they solidified their closer role with Francisco Cordero back in November of 2007. The team thought so highly of the right-hander that they were willing to sign him to the wealthiest contract ever given to a relief pitcher at the time (4yr/$46mil).
Now fast forward to nearly four years later and Cincinnati stands at a crossroad again. They possess an option to bring back the 3-time All-Star in 2012, but at a hefty price tag of $12 million. Should they decide not to exercise that option, Cordero will still be owed $1 million from a buyout clause -- and will then head to the free agent market.
So, what does GM Walt Jocketty and the franchise do with their 36-year old veteran? In my opinion, the timeless advice of "quitting while you're ahead" applies perfectly here.
Make no mistake about it, CoCo's tenure in the Queen City has been more than satisfactory. Over four seasons as the club's closer he appeared in 283 games, boasted a 2.96 ERA, and converted 150 of 174 (86.2%) save opportunities. He shored up the backend of a bullpen that had previously been struggling for years in keeping leads. And it should also be noted that he served as a valuable mentor to the likes of Johnny Cueto, Edinson Volquez and the rest of the pitching staff.
But as the old saying goes, "all good things must come to an end eventually", and I believe that time is now with Cordero.
Although some may point to his age as the key factor in not retaining him, it really comes down to a payroll crunch. The Reds already have $44 million committed to just nine players heading into next season -- and that doesn't include the $1 million buyout for Cordero. Several players are arbitration-eligible and it's expected that Brandon Phillips will also see a pay increase via a long-term contract extension. If the club were to renegotiate a deal with Cordero to the market rate of $10 million a year or so, it would leave little to no payroll flexibility for the short-term future.
One problem in not bringing Cordero back is the lack of a clear replacement. The guy who might have filled that void at one point in time is no longer a candidate. The team recently announced that Aroldis Chapman is set to begin the transition from reliever to starter this offseason -- squashing any potential thoughts about him becoming team's next closer down the road.
However, one possible candidate to consider is minor leaguer Brad Boxberger. Drafted by the Reds in the first round of the 2009 Draft, the 23-year old rose all the way to the Triple-A level at the end of last season. The right-hander compiled a 2.03 ERA and 11 saves in 55 games while splitting time with both Louisville and Double-A Carolina. Although still unproven, Boxberger would provide a much cheaper alternative to Cordero should the organization go that route.
All in all, whatever the team decides to do with Cordero I will support. He's proved to be one of the best closers in the game throughout his 13-year career, and has been especially good during his time with the Redlegs. While it's no guarantee that he'd continue to excel in the future, his track record speaks for itself. But should Cincy not choose to pickup his option, it will free up considerable salary to use towards current or additional players to help field a winning roster.
Either way it's a risk, but what the Reds need to do is decide which choice would be easier to deal with should their decision not work out. Would you rather CoCo not pan out and have to eat an enormous chunk of salary? Or is the thought of squandering away leads, games and maybe even a chance at the postseason greater than the potential financial loss? It's a tough predicament the Reds' front office will have to make sense of soon.