Conventional wisdom is that Francisco Cordero's days of 30-save seasons are over, despite the fact the right-hander chalked up 37 saves for the Cincinnati Reds in 2011 – the seventh season in which he's exceeded a number that has become something of a standard for closers.
Which doesn't bother the Toronto Blue Jays in the slightest. In officially signing Cordero, who will turn 37 years old on May 11, to a one-year, $4.5-million contract on Wednesday, general manager Alex Anthopoulos said he has added "another late-inning guy." Nothing less, nothing more.
Cordero, who is represented by Jose Bautista's agent, Bean Stringfellow, agreed to terms a week earlier. After sacrificing much of his quality bullpen depth last July at the trade deadline in deals that sent Jason Frasor to the Chicago White Sox and Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel to the St. Louis Cardinals, Anthopoulos has given manager John Farrell numerous options heading into spring training.
Cordero is 12th on the all-time saves list with 327 saves and was 5-3 (2.35) with the Reds in 2012. His WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) was 1.019 compared to a career average of 1.333 but other statistical evidence suggests he is very much a pitcher making a late-career transition.
"I can throw 94, 95 sometimes – and for 36, that's pretty good," Cordero said on Wednesday. "I don't throw 98 or 99 miles per hour like I used to. But it's not about strikeouts. It's about doing your job and getting guys out. I'd rather get ground-ball outs and use less pitches and be able to pitch more consecutive days."
Cordero's strikeout rate declined precipitously in 2011 from 7.3 per nine innings to 5.4, well off his career average of 8.8. True, his walk-rate improved to 2.84 per nine innings, much better than his career average of 4.09, and he threw fewer fastballs than in 2010 (41.2 per-cent compared to 66.7 per-cent) and hit the strike zone less than 40 per-cent of the time.
Anthopoulos views the decreased walk-rate as well as a significant increase in ground-ball percentage as the sign of a pitcher in transition. "He has had a remarkable run of success," Anthopoulos said in an e-mail. "He impacts the bullpen by adding another late-inning guy."
As of now, the Blue Jays have some combination of Jason Frasor (who was re-acquired from the White Sox on New Year's Day,) Casey Janssen, Darren Oliver and Cordero setting up for closer Sergio Santos. Carlos Villanueva, Jesse Litsch, Luis Perez and minor leaguer Joel Carreno also factor in the equation, while out of a deep group of prospects Anthopoulos says that 25-year-old lefthander Evan Crawford, selected in the eighth round of the 2008 draft, is a sleeper heading into spring training after going 3-5 (3.35) with 62 strikeouts and 21 walks in 51 innings at Double-A New Hampshire. Crawford was recently added to the Blue Jays 40-man roster.