Francisco Cordero's decision to sign with the Cincinnati Reds surely caused the brows of more than a few Brewers fans to rise.
It's not hard to imagine the refrain: "Here we go again ... just like with the Seligs; the Brewers can't keep their best talent ... wasn't Miller Park supposed to make it possible for the Brewers to pay big money."
All of those statements are understandable, but none of them are justified. The fact of the matter is the Cincinnati Reds -- who have done next to nothing in the National League Central lately -- decided to overpay for Cordero, who has probably signed his final long-term contract.
While losing a closer of Cordero's caliber is painful for a team that came within a whisker of making the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, it's not going to be the end of the world. The bottom line is Cordero, as a closer, is being grossly overpaid and would have been with the Brewers.
General Manager Doug Melvin made a pretty un-Brewers-like offer when he proposed a four-year contract worth about $42 million. Adding the fourth year wasn't something Melvin wanted to do, but considering how the free agent market has exploded in years past, he didn't have much of a choice. By opting to not match the remaining few million dollars put forth by the Reds, he also showed that he's not willing to mortgage the future just to keep Cordero.
The market is more out of hand then ever. Anybody who needs further evidence should look no further than Chicago, where the White Sox signed another now-former Brewers reliever, Scott Linebrink, to a four-year, $19 million deal. Linebrink, you remember, struggled after coming to the Brewers in a mid-season trade. He recovered down the stretch, but still finished with a 3.71 ERA. Is that really worth $19 million?
Passing on such deals is a smart move, especially considering that Mark Attanasio will have some much bigger checks to write in the next few seasons as Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and the rest of the Brewers' core of young talent inch closer to arbitration and free agency.
The Brewers' owner can certainly expect that Fielder will certainly command an offer of at least $100 million. Braun, if he gets his defensive act together, could be looking for something in the same neighborhood. And don't forget that Jeff Suppan is signed for the next three seasons while Ben Sheets is in a contract year. In short, losing Cordero could eventually help the franchise when it comes time to make those tough decisions.
There's also the fact that Cordero wasn't exactly the second coming of Rollie Fingers. While he did set the franchise record with 44 saves, he was also incredibly shaky at times -- especially on the road.
Away from Miller Park, Cordero was far from lights-out. He was 0-4 with an earned run average of 6.55. Considering the Brewers' road struggles during the past few seasons (32-49, second-worst in the NL), $46 million seems to be a bit too much for a 32-year-old closer.
There's also no guarantee that Cordero will put up 2008 numbers compared to what he did a year ago. Brewers fans are quick to forget the symphony of boos that have greeted Derrick Turnbow's every appearance over the last season and a half. He was signed to a long-term deal after developing into one of the games premier closers, and quickly melted down after.
The "Moneyball" school of thought seems to look at closers as an expendable commodity.
Face it, they come in, throw one inning and that's it. Their job is to get three people out. Granted, it's a lot easier to sit and type those words than actually go out and do it, but at the very core, the job of a closer is that simple.
Melvin has shown that he has the ability to find a closer on the scrap heap. Both Dan Kolb and the aforementioned Turnbow fell apart in recent years, but both of them were named to the National League all-star team for their closing performances. The Brewers currently have a surplus of starting pitching that could be used to shore up weak spots in the bullpen, including the back end of it.
There are also options on the free agent market. While the Brewers should and will not go out and sign a big-name closer, guys like Eric Gagne or Kerry Wood might be worth taking a one-year flier on to see if it works.
Cordero's loss leaves a big void for the Brewers. But in the grand scheme of things, his departure won't spell doom for future playoff hopes. The talent is in place to build a perennial contender and the team has a general manager with a knack for finding hidden gems. Like a bad breakup, it will hurt for awhile but there are plenty of fish in the sea.
While these types of losses were a hallmark of the previous regime, Melvin isn't looking to bet the farm for a one-year run. At $46 million, Cordero just wasn't worth it. In the long run, the Brewers will be just fine.