Nats' Cordero Takes Everything in Stride

Closer Chad Cordero, right, joking around with Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire, could wind up being traded for starting pitching.
Closer Chad Cordero, right, joking around with Nationals pitching coach Randy St. Claire, could wind up being traded for starting pitching. (By Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)
By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2007

VIERA, Fla., Feb. 22 -- The newest millionaire in the Washington Nationals' clubhouse was, prior to his arbitration hearing earlier this week, offered a two-year contract. He declined.

"I don't know why I didn't do it," Chad Cordero said Thursday. "I wanted to."

Such is the way Cordero, the Nationals' closer, goes through life. In the fourth spring training of his major league career, he still shuffles through the clubhouse staring straight ahead, speaking when spoken to, grinning a wide grin when something amuses him, remaining unfazed otherwise.

So he was during his contract situation. Cordero's agent, Larry Reynolds, and the players' association told Cordero he had a solid case against the Nationals, who submitted a figure of $3.65 million while Cordero asked for $4.15 million. Okay, Cordero said. Let's go.

"We just went in there," Cordero said, "and wanted to see what happened."

Shrug your shoulders, and move on.

"He's still the same guy who eats four hot dogs a day," said Brian Schneider, Cordero's catcher. "But he's trying to cut down on the Slurpees."

Next month, Cordero will turn 25, but he will remain a kid. He still lives with his old college teammates in a house he owns in Fullerton, Calif. He still spends his offseason playing video games with those same friends, building a fire in the new fire pit out back, roasting marshmallows, going to bed -- then waking up to do the same thing all over again.

But the just-completed arbitration process -- Cordero was awarded the $4.15 million on Wednesday -- was an introduction of baseball's business to Cordero. When he was drafted out of Cal State-Fullerton in 2003, he sat across from one scout and one executive from the Montreal Expos in his family's kitchen in his home town of Chino, Calif., and signed his first pro contract. Now, in a span of a few months, he has heard his name in trade rumors -- and he likely will for the rest of the spring -- and dealt with arbitration and contract offers.

"It was interesting," he said.

Though General Manager Jim Bowden said this week that "Chad Cordero's a very important part of this young core of young players that we have," the club will continue to entertain trade offers for him, should they roll in. Boston and Cleveland are in need of closers, and both have starting pitching prospects that -- should they be offered -- could entice the Nationals to give up Cordero in the name of building a rotation for the future.

Cordero, of course, has heard it all. "At first, I was shocked," he said this week. But he got used to the idea, particularly when the Red Sox came up. Still, he basically lets it roll off. Stay or leave? Whatever.

"That would've been great to go up there," he said. "It is flattering. I wish I could stay here. I really love D.C., but it's just part of the game. So if I get traded, I get traded."

If he remains with the Nationals, Cordero simply will do what he has done for his first three full seasons in the majors. "What you see is what you get," Manager Manny Acta said.

Cordero's self-assessment matches that around the league. Billy Wagner, he of the 99-mph fastball, Cordero is not.

"I know I don't have the most overpowering stuff," he said. "I got to do it with what I have. . . . I know my change-up isn't exactly the best. My slider isn't the best. I don't have the fastest fastball. But I spot them well. When I get hurt is when I leave my fastball up or when I hang my slider or my change-up."

Which is one reason the Nationals would even consider trading such a young closer: His physical attributes can be replaced, and young starting pitching is not only the franchise's greatest weakness but baseball's most valuable commodity.

But until and unless a trade is made, Cordero will continue to do his job. Acta, for one, likes the way he goes about it, and he has seen it from both sides -- as a coach with the Montreal Expos in 2003-04, and then when he was with the New York Mets in 2005-06.

"He doesn't back down from anybody," Acta said. "Everybody in the league, especially in our division, knows what he's going to do. He's going to go right after you."

That approach, one from which Cordero said he will not waver, can also get him in trouble. While the Mets' Wagner can occasionally overpower even the best hitters with pure heat, Cordero can't afford to miss by much. Challenging hitters with a 91-mph fastball can be dangerous. Last season, only one National League reliever -- Chicago's Roberto Novoa -- gave up more than Cordero's 13 home runs.

Yet again, therein lies Cordero's strength. Give up a bomb, take a breath, shrug it off.

"He comes right after guys," Schneider said. "And it doesn't matter who it is or what he did last time. Never has, and I don't think it ever will."

© 2007 The Washington Post Company