Throughout the winter of 2007 rumors swirled around Washington closer Chad Cordero, most of which had the twenty-five year-old right-hander headed to Boston after the Red Sox had decided to put their own closer, Jonathan Papelbon, in the starting rotation.
The closer the Red Sox had plucked out of St. John's University, Craig Hansen hadn't yet shown the stuff to be a stopper, and no one pitcher among the Sox relievers had clearly separated himself from the pack, so Boston reportedly looked, but eventually balked at what the Nationals were asking for in return. (Nationals GM Jim Bowden reportedly asked for a combination of Hansen, Michael Bowden and Clay Buchholz).
The Flat-Brimmed Closer responded to the rumors by struggling in the first month of the season, blowing four of his first eight save opportunities before it was revealed that Cordero would leave the team for some time on the Bereavement List after the well-documented death of a close family member.
While Chad Cordero was away from the team for a week and for a short time after he returned, the Nationals gargantuan 6'11'' reliever Jon Rauch filled the closer role ably, saving 3 of 5 games, and allowing only 4 hits and 4 runs, with 1 HR hit off him in 6.0 innings of work.
Cordero returned to the closers role at the end of May, and over the next five months saved 30 of 35 games that needed closing, posting a (2-1) record with a 3.82 ERA while saving 25 games after the All-Star break. On the season, the Flat-Brimmed closer recorded 37 saves with a (3-3) record and a 3.36 ERA overall.
Jon Rauch saved only one game after his May stint as closer, but the big right-hander posted an (8-4) record with a 3.61 ERA in 2007, striking out 71, walking 21 and saving 4 overall, while giving up only three runs combined after August 22nd as the Nationals wreaked havoc on the NL Playoff picture.
Since joining the Expos in 2004, after being acquired from the White Sox, Rauch has a (17-13) record, with 6 saves, in 232 innings pitched, during which he's struck out 198 while walking only 75 with a 3.30 ERA for the franchise.
In four seasons as the Expos and Nationals primary closer, Chad Cordero has converted 128 of 152 save opportunities with a (20-14) record and a 2.79 ERA in 316.1 innings pitched. Over that time Cordero's struck out 287 batters in 316.1 innings on the mound, or an average of 29 saves and 65 K's per season.
After beginning his career in Chicago as a starter, Jon Rauch was slowly converted into an excellent set-up man for the Nationals, a role he assumed after Luis Ayala missed the entire 2006 campaign, and excelled in over the last two seasons, even now that Ayala's returned.
Chad Cordero came out of college closing, with the flattest brim in the game (Sorry Anthony Reyes!) and the pin-point location of a pitcher who was born to close. After tearing up the league in 2005, his first full campaign as closer, Cordero's come back down to earth, saving 29 and 37 in each of the last two seasons, both of which have seen his ERA gradually climbing.
Once again this off season, Cordero's name has been mentioned in trade talks, with mlb.com's Washington Nationals writer Bill Ladson going so far as to state, in response to a question in his "Nationals Mailbag" recently, that:
"As long as he is on the team, Cordero will be
the closer. However, he will be on the trade
block again. If Cordero is traded, Rauch will
be the closer. Members of the 'think tank'
believe that Rauch took his game to another
level in 2007."
A twenty-five year old beloved closer versus an enormous twenty-eight year old reliever who has yet to be tested as a full-time closer. Chad Cordero vs Jon Rauch. The Flat-Brimmed Closer vs The Tallest Pitcher in MLB History. The flattest brim in baseball versus the most intimidating tattoo of a child's foot ever. (Sorry, that's "way-inside"-Nationals-fandom).
Who would the Nationals turn to if they were to trade Cordero, not get a Major League-ready closer in return, and Jon Rauch didn't work out? Luis Ayala? Saul Rivera? The Sinker-Machine Ryan Wagner? Zechry Zinicola? Josh Smoker? How do you justify trading a twenty-five year old relatively-lights-out closer while rebuilding a franchise that seems geared to compete in the next three of four years? It's really got me wonderin'...