10/14/2003 8:49 PM ET
Phillies exercise option on Cormier
By Ken Mandel / MLB.com
Rheal Cormier was 8-0 with a career-best 1.70 ERA in 65 relief appearances last season. (Andre Forget/AP)
PHILADELPHIA -- In making their first player-related moves of the offseason, the Phillies exercised a $3 million, 2004 option on Rheal Cormier, the team's best reliever last season.
Cormier, 36, won't be joined in the Citizens Bank Park bullpen by Jose Mesa and Mike Williams, who will become free agents. Catcher Kelly Stinnett, a late-season pickup for the Phillies, declined his side of the mutual option for his 2004 contract and is also a free agent.
Cormier had the best season of his 12-year career, going 8-0 with a career-best 1.70 ERA in 65 relief appearances. He finished third among National League relievers in ERA, behind John Smoltz and Cy Young award candidate Eric Gagne, and held opponents to a .182 average.
"Rheal did a tremendous job for us this year," said Phillies general manager Ed Wade. "He was one of the premiere pitchers in our league."
As arguably the league's best left-handed reliever, retaining him was a no-brainer. He was scored upon in just eight of his 65 appearances. He didn't allow a run from May 21-July 7, a span of nearly 22 innings. Fellow reliever Dan Plesac, who is considering a return to the Phillies in 2004, often called Cormier the team's most valuable pitcher.
Cormier is excited about pitching in the team's new ballpark, but is more thrilled about taking care of some unfinished business.
"I think the team is going in the right direction," he said from his home in Florida. "I've been to the playoffs a few times, and I want to get to the World Series. First, you have to get to the postseason and I feel we have a good chance of doing that.
When he can become a free agent after this season, Cormier doesn't know what he'll do.
"Hopefully we can all have career years at the same time, and I'll have another one," he said. "I like the players I played with this season. I like my teammates and the city."
As for the new field, "Nobody knows how it's going to play out. Everybody knows there's going to be grass, but we don't know whether the grass is going to be greener."
To that end, Cormier openly campaigned for Tom Gordon, a teammate in Boston, or Paul Quantrill, to be added to the Phillies roster, but acknowledged that it's Wade's call.
"It's going to be great to be in a new ballpark, but we have to see who else they're going to bring back."
Cormier plans to relax this winter, and continue rooting for the Red Sox. Should they advance to the World Series, he plans to attend the games at Fenway Park.
When the baseball season ends officially, he'll use some of the money from his contract to redo the house in Florida.
"Maybe it's time for a few upgrades," Cormier said.
In declining Mesa's option, the Phillies officially closed the chapter on Mesa's three-year run as closer, which included his becoming the franchise's all-time saves leader.
Jose Mesa / P
The story did not have a happy ending, as the 37-year-old lost his job in August and was seldom seen in September. He was booed loudly during every home appearance.
He compiled 111 saves with the Phillies from 2001-03. In 2003, he saved 24 of 28 games, but went 5-7 with a 6.52 ERA. He allowed 102 base runners in 58 innings.
"Jose filled an important role for us the last three years," Wade said. "He pitched well enough to be our all-time saves leader. However we will be exploring other opportunities to fill that role."
In only two months last season did Mesa have an ERA under 4.00 (April and June), and he has an ERA of 11.36 over the final two months.
Williams, 35, was acquired from the Pirates in July and went a combined 1-7 with a 6.14 ERA and 28 saves. He was selected to represent Pittsburgh at the 2003 All-Star Game for the second straight year.
Stinnett, 33, was acquired Aug. 31 from the Reds and appeared in seven games. He hit .237 overall in 67 games.