By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 7, 2006
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla., Dec. 6 -- In the teeming lobby of the Dolphin hotel at Disney World, the discussion among club executives, agents and innocent bystanders during baseball's winter meetings centers largely on the concept of "value" in an ever-escalating market. What, in anyone's mind, is one player worth anymore?
For free agents, the answer is measured in millions of dollars. But as the meetings prepare to close Thursday, and clubs such as the Washington Nationals get deeper into trade discussions, the value is measured in the quality of player a team receives in return. And because the Nationals and other clubs feel differently about the value of closer Chad Cordero, it appears less and less likely Washington will trade the 24-year-old without an offer that overwhelms them.
Other than outfielder Ryan Church -- who appears to be the National most likely to be traded -- Washington has fielded more interest in Cordero than any of its other players. Though the Nationals believe it is more difficult and more important to acquire and develop starting pitching -- one element they would insist on in any deal for Cordero -- they also believe teams underestimate Cordero's worth.
Take one potential suitor, identified Wednesday by a baseball official with knowledge of the discussions: the New York Mets. They have an established closer in Billy Wagner, but they could use Cordero -- who was drafted by Montreal under the watch of Mets General Manager Omar Minaya -- as insurance should Wagner, 35, break down, or as a setup man if Wagner is healthy. One Mets official said Wednesday: "I know Omar loves Cordero."
The Nationals, though, are selling Cordero on his strong points -- his age, his major league-high 47 saves in 2005, his career ERA of 2.61 and the fact he is eligible for arbitration for only the first time this offseason, meaning he won't be a free agent until after the 2009 season.
Officials from other clubs, however, are wary of relievers because there is no more volatile commodity. Cordero's fastball, topping out at 90-91, is far from overpowering.
So what, then, is Cordero's value? One official who has spoken to the Nationals believes they want three players for him -- a top prospect, regardless of position; a promising young starting pitcher who wouldn't be deemed ready for another club's rotation but would get an immediate opportunity with the Nationals; and another pitcher. Even if the Nationals would take fewer players, the cost is clearly high.
With the Mets, for example, the top prospect could be outfielder Lastings Milledge, the official said. But a Mets official said it's almost certain his club wouldn't trade Milledge straight up for Cordero, let alone include more players.
"They want so much for their people," said an official of another club.
The true value of Washington's players, General Manager Jim Bowden believes, might not be determined for weeks, after most of the remaining free agents have signed.
"This year is very unique because of the ramifications of free agency and the salaries that are being spent in that realm," Bowden said. "In this particular year, I think you'll see trades later, after the winter meetings, into January and maybe February."
Still, the Nationals could move Church soon. One executive said that the "vast majority" of Washington's trade discussions centered on the 28-year-old outfielder, and that there were five teams legitimately involved, among them Detroit, Philadelphia and the Chicago Cubs.
In fact, sources said the Nationals were involved in a three-way discussion with Detroit and Baltimore in which Washington would have received a pitcher from the Orioles. The problem: Washington didn't want starter Rodrigo Lopez, preferring a younger, cheaper option.
Like Cordero, Church's true value could be determined in coming weeks.
Nationals Notes: Washington could sign former major leaguer Jose Macias, who spent last year playing in Japan, to a minor league contract that would give him a chance to be the backup third baseman, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Macias is a .256 career hitter over six full major league seasons in which he has played in the outfield, at second base and at third. . . .
There is still little action on the player the Nationals would most like to trade -- second baseman Jose Vidro. One official said an American League club that could provide Vidro time at second, first and designated hitter has shown interest, but talks are not advanced. . . .
The Nationals are preparing to announce that Class AA manager John Stearns will move up to manage Class AAA Columbus, former Class AAA manager Tim Foli will take a roving position in the minor league system, and former minor league field coordinator Scott Little will manage Class AA Harrisburg.
Staff writer Jorge Arangure Jr. contributed to this report.