What was once a lengthy list has essentially dwindled down to two free agents in Ryan Madson and Francisco Cordero. As far as the Reds are concerned financially, it's really only Cordero, because Madson is widely viewed as being above Cincinnati's price point.
The last major closer acquisition came during the holidays via a trade, when the Red Sox acquired All-Star Andrew Bailey from the A's in a five-player deal. Earlier in the offseason, the Reds were connected to Bailey in some speculation.
The declining number of closers -- and job openings -- seemingly makes a reunion between the Reds and Cordero more realistic. But the 37-year-old's agent, Bean Stringfellow, insists multiple suitors remain.
"We're still talking with [Cincinnati] and a couple of other clubs," Stringfellow said on Tuesday. "We're making progress on a lot of fronts. Multi-year contracts are definitely involved.
"The Reds are involved, and are still interested in bringing him back. I am talking with them on a regular basis."
Stringfellow declined to detail the specific numbers being bandied about with the Reds in negotiations. But general manager Walt Jocketty made it clear he wasn't one of the clubs looking to offer multiple years.
"We're looking at one year or one year with an option," Jocketty said. "That's all it could be, right now -- one year guaranteed."
Cordero is coming off of one of his better seasons in 2011 for the Reds, when he was 5-3 with a 2.45 ERA and 37 saves in 43 chances. After the All-Star break, he converted 20 of his 21 save opportunities. While his strikeout rate dipped, his walks and hits per innings pitched also declined and he became more efficient. It was also the final year of a four-year, $46 million contract signed with Cincinnati.
"We're still trying to figure out the right deal for both of us," Jocketty said of Cordero. "He's expressed interest in coming back and we've expressed interest in having him back."
It appeared possible for Cordero to find a landing spot with one team or another over the coming days.
"It could be today or 10 days from now. I don't know," Stringfellow said. "I do know that we're closer now than we've been. I don't think it will carry on too much longer."
Should the Reds not re-sign Cordero, or acquire anyone else, they would be forced to look within for a solution. They hedged their bets somewhat in trading for setup man Sean Marshall from the Cubs on Dec. 23. The deal, which sent lefty starter Travis Wood and two others to Chicago, brought in one of the best left-handed relievers in the league. Marshall could be converted into a closer -- and on the day of his trade, welcomed the opportunity to work the ninth inning should it come.
Other possible in-house candidates appear to be lefty Bill Bray and right-handers Nick Masset and Logan Ondrusek.
"We've got a number of capable guys to do it," Jocketty said. "It would probably be one of the left-handers."
One left-hander still not in the closing mix is Aroldis Chapman.
"Probably not," Jocketty said. "We're still hoping to get him in as a starter."
Since the World Series, several free-agent closers and former closers have found homes -- including Jonathan Papelbon with the Phillies, Joe Nathan with the Rangers, Jonathan Broxton with the Royals, Heath Bell with the Marlins and Frank Francisco with the Mets. Francisco Rodriguez decided to accept arbitration with the Brewers to be a setup man, while making $14 million in 2012. One potential ex-closer still available is the oft-injured Brad Lidge.
Stringfellow, who earlier in the offseason stated there were seven or eight teams interested in his client, was not discouraged that Cordero didn't get a contract yet.
"I've been fortunate to represent a number of upper-echelon closers, like Billy Wagner and Coco," Stringfellow said. "This year, there's been more out there than other years. One thing we did expect was that a number of clubs weren't players on the free-agent market that normally are -- like the Yankees, Orioles and others. We anticipated most of it. We never felt bad about anything. It's just working through the numbers to make sure it's to be with the right club."