SEATTLE: Reliever Chad Cordero #33 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Safeco Field. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Everyone knows that teams don’t draft for need in the amateur draft. A hole at shortstop in the majors isn’t a reason to draft a shortstop because a lot can happen in the two, three, or four years that an amateur player develops. But for a while, there was a new trend sweeping draft rooms. A short-lived fad, like pet rocks or Jeff D’Amicos. In 2003, three teams drafted college closers in the first round and put them on a quick path to the majors. It was a new fusion, combining the boring ol’ "build for the future" with sweet, sweet instant gratification.
Chad Cordero was the first of the new wave. In 2003, the "Montreal Expos" drafted him with the 20th-overall pick, and he was pitching in the majors two months later. More than that, though, he was pitching well. Extremely well. He took over the closer’s role for the Washington Nationals in 2005 and finished fifth in the Cy Young voting. The Reds weren’t as successful with Ryan Wagner, nor did the Giants get a lot out of David Aardsma. The "Expos" tried again the next season with Bill Bray. It was truly the golden era of first-round closers.
Granted, Cordero was the entire golden era. Oh, Aardsma was finally a successful closer for a brief time after years of floating around, and Huston Street was technically a first-rounder (though a supplemental pick) but the idea of spending a top-20 pick on a college closer and almost immediately assigning him a locker started and ended with Cordero. Why, he finished with 128 saves, more than Dick Radatz, Tippy Martinez, or Firpo Marberry!
Cordero officially retired from professional baseball on Monday, yet another reminder that players should see a doctor for elbow problems and a priest for shoulder problems. Federal Baseball wrote a nice postscript on Chad Cordero, the player. But he'll also have a legacy as Chad Cordero, the draft strategy. Oft imitated, never replicated. If your team ever drafts a college closer high in the first round, it's okay to freak out. But it's also okay to think, "Well, heck, maybe he'll be the next Chad Cordero."