Before this season, I could never have imagined writing a straight-faced post on extending Francisco Cordero. After 2010, he'd had a relatively productive three seasons in Cincinnati (with an All Star appearance in '09) but his contract felt more like an albatross than ever before. It's certainly no fault of Cordero's that he'd been signed for money out of proportion for a reliever on team with a $70-80M payroll, but the fact remains that he's wound up being paid around $160,000 per inning, despite the fact that in 2010, he performed roughly at a level that could have been expected from a pre-arbitration, league minimum reliever: 106 ERA+, 1.431 WHIP, 7 blown saves. An adjustment should be made for the value of leverage and its effect on the chain of relievers, which improves the bullpen as a whole. But a pitcher making a couple million - or even a closer by committe - probably could have approximated his 2010 value.
A lot has changed since then. Cordero is now putting the finishing touches on his finest season as a Red. Despite the dip in his K-rate, his control is the best it's been in his entire career (2.4 BB/9) and he's less hittable than ever. There is certainly plenty of noise from season to season when it comes to relievers, but it's hard to say Cordero is anything other than a highly effective closer right now - even if he hasn't done it by overpowering hitters (his average fastball velocity is down almost 1.5 mph over last year).
Meanwhile, Cordero's possible heirs have mostly faltered this season, with no obvious minor league prospects set to move into a major league closer role over next season. Masset and Chapman's ERAs are hovering around 4.00. And Chapman has been walking 7.6 per-nine-innings. Aside from my personal hope that he gets to try starting again, that kind of control can't be plugged right into a role in which you're almost always entering the game with no more than a three run lead and sometimes in high-leverage situations with runners on base. Logan Ondrusek and Edinson Volquez could also be in the conversation, but Logan has come back to earth in the second half (and shown some wear), while Volquez has had a mostly miserable 2011 season - marked by a lack of control, but without Chapman's gaudy k-rate.
So what could the Reds expect to offer Cordero that wouldn't put their payroll in a bind? It seems more than likely that they couldn't get away with a one-year contract. Another team would almost certainly be willing to give him 2 years after the season he's had and the price of any kind of discount Cordero would grant would probably be multiple guaranteed years in exchange.
Cordero is 36 and would therefore be paid through his age 38 season, which is hopefully as far as Walt would be willing to go - not because it's impossible to be effective after that point (it is), but its just too risky for the Reds. There are a few comps that may be informative, given contract year age, and career and season stats before signing:
Player Age Contract Previous Season Career pre-contract 34 2yr/$12M 165 ERA+, 1.74 K/BB 157 ERA+, 2.57 K/BB 32 2yr/$14M (+$9M option) 178 ERA+, 2.67 K/BB 142 ERA+, 3.03 K/BB 37 2 yr /$13.5M (+$7.5M vesting option) 131 ERA+, 4.5 K/BB 146 ERA+, 4.02 K/BB
1.74 ERA+, 2.35 K/BB
146 ERA+, 2.17 K/BB
165 ERA+, 1.74 K/BB
157 ERA+, 2.57 K/BB
178 ERA+, 2.67 K/BB
142 ERA+, 3.03 K/BB
2 yr /$13.5M
131 ERA+, 4.5 K/BB
146 ERA+, 4.02 K/BB
Both the economy and a new collective bargaining agreement may affect free agent market spending this offseason. Beyond that, there's also the fact that these relievers could all be free agents after the season (though some of them will have their options picked up):
Jeremy Affeldt (club option)
Brad Lidge (club option)
Kyle Farnsworth (club option)
Joe Nathan (club option)
Jon Rauch (club option)
Rafael Soriano (player option)
Jose Valverde (club option)
So this should all put some downward pressure on Cordero's asking price.
Looking at the comps and the market, I'd expect Cordero to command two years at no less than $5M per (maybe slightly less with a discount, deferrals or generous buyout) and possibly with some kind of club option/buyout on the third year. Given the level of risk, can the Reds make that deal and still make other offseason moves needed to patch their holes? This is something we'll dig further into during the offseason.