CINCINNATI -- When the Reds declined the $12 million club option on Francisco Cordero, it gave the veteran closer a chance to explore the free-agent market. Of course, it meant that Cincinnati could do likewise.There are a lot of closers and ex-closers on the free-agent market this offseason, including Ryan Madson, Heath Bell, Joe Nathan, Brad Lidge, Jonathan Broxton and Francisco Rodriguez. According to his representative, that hasn't appeared to curb suitors for Cordero. "We've had probably seven or eight teams inquire with interest, a couple of more since [Jonathan] Papelbon's deal," Cordero's agent, Bean Stringfellow, said on Monday. "It's all ongoing and it's still early.
"There's been strong interest, including from the Reds."A four-year, $50 million contract announced Monday between the Phillies and Papelbon is an indication that the prices for premier closers haven't changed much since the Reds signed Cordero to a four-year, $46 million contract in November 2007. That also marked the last time the Reds made a significant expenditure for a free agent, not including the 2010 international signing of Cuban Aroldis Chapman. At 36, Cordero isn't likely to get another contract like the one that just expired, but if his departure is permanent, it could create a big offseason issue for Cincinnati. For a team that's averse to opening the vault for free agents, the Reds might need a Plan B, or even a Plan C for a closer. That could mean signing a less reputable -- or former -- free-agent closer to a cheaper deal. Other closers that might come cheaper could be Frank Francisco, Matt Capps, Octavio Dotel or Jon Rauch. So far none of these names -- or any others -- have been linked to the Reds. Looking within, the Reds discovered this season that they have no designated closer-in-waiting to step in without Cordero around. Right-handed setup man Nick Masset has closer's stuff but had his most inconsistent season since being traded to the Reds in 2008. There's also left-hander Bill Bray, who doesn't throw very hard but has demonstrated the ability to get both lefty and righty hitters out. And of course there is Chapman, who was a left-handed setup man last season. While Chapman's 100-plus-mph velocity certainly fits as closer's stuff, he's lacked the repeatability of being able to pitch multiple days in a row. The Reds had also hoped to convert him to a starter who can compete for a rotation spot next spring. That effort took a hit in late October, when Chapman sustained left shoulder inflammation after some Arizona Fall League appearances. Cordero posted a 2.45 ERA with 37 saves in 43 chances and converted 20 of his 21 save opportunities after the All-Star break this past season. He has 327 career saves, which is good for 12th all time. While his strikeout rate took a dip in 2011, so did his walks and hits totals. The door is far from closed for a Cordero return to Cincinnati. There were no hard feelings over his option not being exercised. In fact, Stringfellow and the club were in contact as recently as this past weekend. "Coco expressed interest in going back to the Reds for more than one year," Stringfellow said.