When Texas moved Cordero out of the closer's role last week, it certainly operated to reduce the number of games he will finish in 2006. Cordero finished 60 games in 2005. He's finished nine games this season. Whether those 69 games have enabled Cordero to secure the higher option figure for 2007 hasn't been reported.
But if the incentive level on the option hasn't been reached yet, in the event that Cordero happens to finish a 7-5 loss here or a 9-2 win there, he'll get closer to the bumping up the option figure. The key statistic is not games saved. It's games finished.
And that wasn't agent Bean Stringfellow playing hardball in the contract talks. Bonuses can't be predicated on saves. Or on home runs. Or on the team winning the World Series.
Major League Rule 3(b)(5) provides as follows:
"No Major League Uniform Player's Contract or Minor League Uniform Player Contract shall be approved if it contains a bonus for playing, pitching or batting skill or if it provides for the payment of a bonus contingent on the standing of the signing Club at the end of the championship season."
While the Major League Rules don't include committee notes to help explain intent and rationale, it stands to reason that the drafters of Rule 3(b)(5) implemented the restriction on bonuses so that Hitter A doesn't have a disincentive to hit behind the runner in a pivotal game on the season's last weekend, when one more homer would trigger a $100,000 bonus, and so that Pitcher B doesn't try dialing it up to get closer to that strikeouts incentive when what his team really needs is a two-seamer down and away to get that rollover double play.
Games played are fair incentive measures. So are starts, and innings pitched. And plate appearances as well -- but not at-bats, because it would mean a player's ability to earn a bonus would be impeded by a walk, or a sacrifice bunt. Allowing plate appearances removes the problem that measuring at-bats would create.
Along the same lines, contracts cannot provide bonuses for games saved, but games finished are in play. While there may not be the potential for abuse by making saves fair game -- there's really not a situation in which a closer or his team would have different motivations -- it's certainly easier to enforce Rule 3(b)(5) by invalidating all skill-based statistics rather than itemizing which ones are legal and which are not, particularly in a sport in which possible statistical measures are virtually limitless.
Are there decisions made by clubs late in the season to keep a player from triggering a bonus? You'd like to think not, but when Seattle acquired righthander Ismael Valdes from the Rangers in August 2002, the Mariners curiously didn't permit him to go seven innings in any of his first four starts, leaving him at 170 innings with three weeks to go in the season. Had Valdes reached 200 innings, he would have secured an extra $425,000.
But once the incentive was basically out of reach, Seattle relaxed the leash on Valdes, and he went seven, seven, four, and eight innings in his final four starts, finishing with 196 frames for the season. For what it's worth, Valdes posted a 4.63 ERA in those first four starts, when he was pulled relatively early. His ERA was 5.19 in his final four starts, and yet he was allowed to pitch deeper into games.
If Cordero doesn't pitch his way back into the closer's role in Texas, it's probably not going to matter whether the club's 2007 option is for $5 million or $6 million. But you can bet that Texas wants him to reclaim the role he's held down for two and a half seasons, strengthening the bullpen this year and putting himself back into the Rangers' plans for 2007.
You can also bet not only that Cordero wants the same thing, but that he wants it sooner than later. How soon he gets the ninth-inning role back could have a million bucks riding on it.