Cockcroft: Cordero closing in Cincy
After years of making do with less-overpowering closer types like David Weathers and Danny Graves, the Cincinnati Reds finally felt it important to get themselves a proven finisher for 2008, signing free agent Francisco Cordero to a four-year, $46 million contract, according to ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick.
Interesting move, considering that in 2007, the Reds helped back up the notion that "anyone can close." Weathers, despite averaging 5.56 strikeouts per nine innings this past season and entering the year with 41 career saves to his credit, managed 33 saves, a 3.59 ERA and 1.21 WHIP, respectable numbers for a pitcher calling that ballpark his home.
Compare those to Cordero's stats: 44 saves, a 2.98 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. Better numbers, absolutely, but are they enough to warrant a noticeable boost in payroll?
Cordero represents an upgrade for the Reds, even if the move is a little curious for a 72-win, fifth-place finishing team in 2007. If Weathers could save 33 games for this team, and Cordero 44 for the Brewers, there's no reason Cordero can't contend for another 40-plus. Still, specific save totals are about as tough as any statistical category to forecast. Bobby Jenks saved 40 for a White Sox team that won 72 games, while Mariano Rivera saved 30 for the 94-win Yankees. Cordero could save 30 as easily as he could 45.
So, for fantasy, we're left to look at a closer's performance in the other, more talent-based categories. Not that I'd call ERA a perfect representation of a pitcher's raw talent, either, but at least Cordero has a 3.29 career number there, and 2.89 since 2002. In WHIP, a better indicator, he's at 1.35 for his career, 1.25 since 2002. Cordero also averaged 12.22 strikeouts per nine innings in 2007, and has recorded better than a strikeout per inning each year since 2003, which qualifies him as fairly overpowering. He's not what I'd call elite, but he's not far from a proper definition of it, either.
With the shift to Cincinnati's homer-friendly ballpark, especially as left-handed sluggers are concerned, Cordero should probably be expected to be a lot closer to the pitcher he was in Texas than in his standout final two months of 2006 and in 2007 with Milwaukee. Sure, staying in the lighter-hitting National League -- and the Central in particular -- will help him, but we're talking about the game's No. 2 home run park (1.351 on the Park Factor page), and one that hasn't been lower than 1.275 in any of the past three seasons.
In 2005 as a member of the Rangers, for instance, Cordero saved 37 games and managed a 3.39 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, solid second-tier and nearly first-tier fantasy closer numbers. That seems about right, especially since, like that team, the Reds are a team built primarily around offense and one that lacks great middle-relief options to protect leads.
So who closes for Milwaukee now? Former finisher Derrick Turnbow, who netted 39 saves in 2005, becomes the obvious in-house best bet. But expect the Brewers to do their homework in terms of bringing in some competition, or perhaps a better option. Turnbow has second-tier closer upside, even if he can be wildly inconsistent with his command, so don't be surprised if the team explores a one-year deal with someone like Octavio Dotel, Eric Gagne or Troy Percival. Stay tuned
Scott of Boston asks: I'm in an AL-only keeper league and can keep Joakim Soria and Jeremy Accardo at dirt cheap prices. What do you expect from each? Left out of the equation is the fact that I can draft B.J. Ryan and stow him away.
Tristan: It's a closer theme today, and as I noted above, saves is about the toughest statistical category to predict, since, like wins, saves are hardly a perfect indicator of individual performance. For one thing, there's no guarantee either of those closer hopefuls will hold the role for all of 2008, though I anticipate that come Opening Day, each of them is in there in the ninth inning (granted a lead, of course).
Given the choice today, I'd take Soria of the two. Granted, opponents might have a better handle on how to hit him in his sophomore season, but it's hard to ignore his 1.94 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, .160 BAA and 50 strikeouts in 46 1/3 innings the final four months of the season. Those are elite closer numbers, even if the Royals' sorry performance in terms of wins and losses likely limits his saves ceiling. I think of him as a potential 30-save man, and one with an ERA a shade better than 3.00 and a WHIP a little over 1.00. Think of him as a second-tier sleeper, but that's only if the Royals make a firm commitment to him as closer in the spring.
Accardo, by comparison, was showing signs of wearing down late last season. That has me a bit troubled about his potential for a full year, as does the possibility that Ryan returns by midseason. I'm not as confident about Ryan's 2008 chances as most, but I'd also expect him to be a factor sometime after the All-Star break. Accardo might not be much less a closer than Soria through July, and I actually think he has comparable raw skill when it comes to that kind of role, but he's also got more competition. I'd bet Accardo gets maybe 15-20 saves and an ERA around 3.00 for the season, Ryan a little less than that.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.