Blue Jays add Cordero to beefed-up bullpen
Former closer will fill setup role with one-year, $4.5 million deal
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays further solidified the back end of their bullpen on Wednesday afternoon by officially signing free agent Francisco Cordero to a one-year contract.The 36-year-old is set to earn $4.5 million during his 14th season in the Major Leagues. To make room on its 40-man roster for Cordero, outfielder Darin Mastroianni was designated for assignment by the club. Cordero spent last season as the full-time closer in Cincinnati but will make the transition to a setup role for Sergio Santos with the Blue Jays. It's a role he has done before, and one the veteran right-hander says will be embraced. "Being in the closer's role for a long time, I know what to do and I just have to treat the eighth inning like it's the ninth inning," Cordero said during a conference call. "I just have to go out and do my job. ... They explained to me what my role is going to be, I agreed to it and I'll be more than happy to do it." The signing appears to be somewhat of a bargain, and general manager Alex Anthopoulos took advantage of a buyers' market for relievers to put the finishing touches on his bullpen. Cordero posted a 2.45 ERA with 37 saves in 43 opportunities with the Reds last season, but the expected multiyear contract offers never surfaced during the offseason. He could only watch as fellow free agents Heath Bell, Jonathan Papelbon and Joe Nathan all secured deals while some teams opted to fill the closer's role internally or through trades. That left Cordero unsigned with less than a month to go until the start of Spring Training. He reportedly had two other offers on the table but opted to pick the Blue Jays because of their strong offer and his ties to Jose Bautista, Carlos Villanueva and Edwin Encarnacion. The free-agent process is now over, and while Cordero didn't secure an ideal closer's job, he seems pretty content with the situation. "I thought it was going to be a little bit better," Cordero said of the market. "But this is baseball, and sometimes it gets like that -- sometimes business gets like that. "You just have to be able to come out of it and deal with it. I think I did pretty good -- just wait, wait and sign in the right place." Cordero has 327 saves in 397 career opportunities and earned most of those with an overpowering fastball that was frequently registered in the high 90s. The velocity has since dropped to the 93-94-mph range in recent seasons and has forced a change in the way he pitches. The native of the Dominican Republic added a sinker to his repertoire, which also includes a curveball, slider and changeup. The ability to mix things up with five pitches enabled Cordero to maintain his success on the mound despite the diminished speed. The end result saw Cordero average just 5.4 strikeouts per nine innings last season, compared to 7.3 in 2010, but his walks also dropped. He issued just 22 free passes in 69 2/3 innings of work and considers himself to be a more polished pitcher than he was earlier in his career. "When you get older, you're not that young kid anymore that's used to throwing 100 mph. You have to learn how to pitch, and that's what I have been doing," Cordero said. "For the past few years, I've been learning how to pitch -- in and out, moving the ball a lot better. "I'm not worried about getting a lot of strikeouts. It's good to get a strikeout, but sometimes when you get a strikeout, you throw a lot of pitches. And if you become a ground-ball pitcher, you save yourself a lot of pitches and you can pitch a lot more." Toronto's bullpen arguably was the club's biggest weakness in 2011, but should now be considered its strength. The Blue Jays finished tied for the American League lead with 25 blown saves last year, but 2011 closers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch have since departed as free agents. Cordero will join Santos, Jason Frasor, Darren Oliver and Casey Janssen to form the core of Toronto's relief staff. The final two spots likely will be filled by the dependable Villanueva and Jesse Litsch or lefty Luis Perez, who is currently out of options. "The people who the Blue Jays have signed in the offseason make a good bullpen," Cordero said. "I know there was some trouble in the bullpen last year ... but they're playing some new guys -- myself, Oliver, Frasor and Santos. "It's a good bullpen, and I've seen the Blue Jays play, I know they have a great offense. It's just a matter of time to put everything together and it's going to be a lot of fun." Mastroianni now likely will be headed to waivers, but if he clears, he could find himself playing for Triple-A Las Vegas. Mastroianni made his Major League debut in 2011 but appeared in just one game and went hitless in two at-bats. The 26-year-old didn't appear to have much of a long-term future with the club. Toronto already has Bautista, Colby Rasmus, Eric Thames, Travis Snider, Rajai Davis and Ben Francisco in the outfield, with promising prospects Anthony Gose and Jake Marisnick on the way. Mastroianni hit . 276 with two home runs and 23 RBIs in 79 games with Las Vegas last season. He was originally selected by Toronto in the 16th round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.
Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. MLB.com reporter Alden Gonzalez contributed. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.