Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Nat of the day, Jan. 25

Wil Cordero, lefty-masher; or, Must. Corner. Market. On. Corderos. (Only one left.*)

Name: Wilfredo Cordero Nieva
Position: First base, left field, pinch hitter
Age: 33 (turns 34 in October)
Height/weight: 6-2, 190 (not likely; other sources have him at 232 lbs.)
Bats/throws: Right/right
Relevant 2004 statistics: Nothing, really---Cordero barely garnered enough at-bats to escape Voros' Law ; he did hit an outstanding .500/.556/1.125 in A-ball (of course, that was in all of eight at-bats . . .)
Garden variety scouting report: Fairly impatient hitter; moderate extra-base power; speed is a distant memory

The Inquirer wants to know:

Why is Cordero in Washington?

Presumably, Cordero's primary on-field existence is now to create a platoon advantage against lefthanded pitchers. Last year's totals don't tell you anything, of course, but he's probably as capable as most veterans confined to his type of role. For the period of 2002-04, for instance, he has hit .292/.372/.478 in 226 at-bats against lefties. If Cordero's got anything left in his tank, he will likely perform his job in an adequate manner.

Haven't we already been to this party?

Well, yes, in a way.

Cordero signed a one-year deal for $600,000. Two offseasons ago, he signed to these exact terms with the former Montreal Expos. The signing coincided with the point when Rob Neyer apparently had taken his fill of Expos-payroll-related woe-is-meism, and he came just short of attempting to audit the organization. Mike's Baseball Rants provided a nice summary of Neyer's article (and linked to it as well, if you've got a minute), picking up on Neyer's observation that “[s]imply put, for $600,000 you can have either one Wil Cordero, or two players just as good as Wil Cordero.”

Mike then added:

He cannot be said to be a credible starting player in the majors any longer. The Expos are in a bind financially. Given their situation and his salary, he may have to be their starting first baseman next

Would that be such a bad thing? I could see Cordero producing 15 HRs, 60-odd RBI, and .260-.270 average. However, he also will walk only about 30 times, ground into 20+ double plays, and steal nary a base (unlike his early days). We’re talking about a player that has a chance to be slightly better than average OPS-wise, something that should be a liability for a slow, defensively-poor first baseman.

Our present situation is clearly distinguishable; unless Terrmel Sledge, Brad Wilkerson, and/or Nick Johnson play pick-up basketball with Aaron Boone, it is not likely Cordero will be asked to be a starter.

Now, you could say that Cordero's role could be filled by a younger, cheaper guy. I was even critical of the signing for just this reason. But perhaps that's just some knee-jerk statheadism talking. Call it Chris Kahrl-itis, if you will: the need to obsess over a team's decision regarding its last two roster spots.

I guess J.J. Davis could accomplish the same thing, and Davis is certainly younger and almost as cheap as you can get. And I definitely would have loved to see Josh Phelps signed and get a shot at the role. But let's face; there's a team in Washington now, and that changes things a bit. Baseball is no longer solely a theoretical, analytical exercise for Nationals fans. There's still a lot of that, yes, but when it comes down to it . . . we're not going to be fans of this team in order to be steamed off by a net $300,000 loss over the platoon lefty-masher role; well, I'm not going to be.

Is this guy really a "clubhouse leader"?

I've no idea; the last time I had a press pass was in high school, so my chance of observing the Nats' clubhouse is roughly equivalent to my chance of spending a lovely evening with this lady.

To the extent we can determine whether Cordero will provide Veteran Presence(tm) or just play the role of Old Slug, I suppose much will depend on whether Cordero reports to spring training in shape. Beyond that, there seems to be a split of authority on how smoothly Cordero's 2003 Montreal tour under Frank Robinson went.

On the one hand, we have the story told in MLB.com Nats beat writer Bill Ladson's article about Cordero upon his signing in December. This article has been picked up by so many media outlets that its presence is rather pervasive if you do a quick search for information about Cordero on the internet. The same lines and quotations about Cordero are repeated, including this quote from Robinson:

"Wil has been a professional hitter for a long time," said Robinson. "Not only does he play the game the right way, his on- and off-field presence provides an intangible that will be an asset to our ball club."

On the other hand, we have this mysterious passage from ESPN.com's profile of Cordero, which hasn't been updated in a year:

Cordero seemed to find his way into Frank Robinson's doghouse a number of times for perceived lackadaisical play, and he won't be back after the Expos didn't offer him salary arbitration.

Now, presumably this report has some basis in reality, and it's very possible that Robinsonrevised history and said some nice company-man things upon Cordero's return to the organization---well, its successor organization. Anyway, my general rule is to take direct quotes over unattributed information, and I didn't find else (albeitly, in rather superficial research) to indicate that Robinson found Cordero so problematic.

It's also possible that the profile dwells on Cordero's troubled past, which is fairly well chronicled (though the spring of 1998) in the second nugget of this article. Furthermore, it is not as if Cordero's troubles ceased completely; in fact, the profile might have been written about the time Cordero was arrested for DUI in December of 2003. (He was acquitted in August, though the profile would have needed a flux capacitor to know this.)

At any rate, this is a bit lengthy a discussion for a guy like me, who doesn't really even take much stock in "clubhouse leadership" or "team chemistry" per se. Still, if a major justification in signing the guy is that he's a great veteran presence, we---as Nats fans---should probably investigate, with whatever resources we can, whether the characterization holds a basis in reality. (Just don't obsess over it.)

* Did you realize that only three men named "Cordero" have ever played in MLB, and they are all active right now? It's true, I swear; look it up on Baseball Reference if you want.

Just don't obsess over his character flaws? That's been half my blog's schtick! :)

Let's see... Wil. Chad. Ummmm. Francisco!
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