The Detroit Tigers are one of the most talented teams in baseball and are expected by many to represent the American League in the World Series and many are picking them to go on to win the World Series. Those expectations may only be dreams however, as the Tigers have a dilemma that no team in baseball is envious of, what to do with Jose Valverde and their closer role?
The Tigers entered this season saying that they were in no way going to resign Valverde and they were going to instead opt with rookie Bruce Rondon to handle the closing duties. Rondon struggled at the end of Spring Training which led the Tigers to open the regular season with a closer by committee. The Tigers seemed content with this option and still there was no mention of bringing back Valverde to close out games. The closer by committee approach soon ran into some problems and cost the Tigers a couple of early games in the season. This caused the Tigers to look to the free agent market and bring back a familiar face in Jose Valverde with a minor league contract. The contract was seen as a win win for the Tigers. If Valverde was able to regain his form, the Tigers would have a potent closer. If Valverde failed to work out his issues, the Tigers wouldn’t be on the hook with a major league contract and would be able to cut ties with Valverde once and for all.
Valverde was able to work his way smoothly through the minors in a couple of weeks mainly unscathed. He was getting batters out and not giving up many runs. This made the Tigers make the move of bringing Valverde up to the big club to close out games for them once again. All was going well for the first couple of save opportunities but then Valverde got shaky and blew his first save in his fourth appearance on May 12th against Cleveland. He would then go on to blow another save in dramatic fashion against Baltimore when he gave up two home runs in the ninth inning, a solo shot to bring the score to within one and a three run shot for the blown save and the loss. His latest blown save has brought out all of the frustration in Tigers fans that has been building since the first one. Only one strike away from notching the save and giving Justin Verlander the win, Valverde threw a meatball over the plate that Lorenzo Cain was able to deposit into the seats to tie the game at two. This led to an outcry from the Tigers faithful to replace Valverde with someone else, anyone else. The question is though, who do you replace Valverde with?
The Tigers have some internal options that they could use at the closer role though none of them are proven and not yet reliable or already flourish in other roles. The first option is using Drew Smyly to close out games as he has shown the ability to get out both left and right handed hitters. There are two problems with Smyly though. Smyly has never been in the closer role so who knows if he can handle the pressure, and Smyly is crucial to the Tigers out of the bullpen especially for long relief roles.
Another option is promoting Bruce Rondon back to the majors to take over the closer role. Rondon saw very limited time in the majors earlier this season with no success. In 2.1 innings pitched, Rondon has given up five hits and three earned runs for a 11.57 ERA. He has pitched well in the minors though this season. In 23.1 innings pitched, Rondon has a sparkling 0.77 ERA with 10 saves. The only worry is with Rondon’s lack of experience. He showed the lack of experience at the end of Spring Training and his limited time in the majors and the biggest question is if he will be able to get major league players out with the same efficiency as minor league players.
The one candidate that Tigers fans may be most comfortable with would be Joaquin Benoit. In 28 innings pitched, Benoit has a rock solid 1.93 ERA while giving up only 6 runs. He has the ability to get any batter out and has proven to be able to perform in high pressure situations. The only problem with Benoit is that he is a strong eighth inning set up man and if you put him in the closer role, all you are doing is creating a hole in the eighth inning.
These situations lead to the dilemma that the Tigers face. Do the Tigers give Valverde a short leash and some more opportunities, or do the Tigers make a move right away, whether internally or through a trade, and send Valverde packing once and for all?
What do you think Nation? If the Tigers are to trade for a closer, who should they trade for? If the Tigers look internally for a replacement, who should it be?