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Do the Detroit Tigers Need a New Closer?

Are the Tigers done with Jose Valverde?  Should they be?  Dumping him to sign a top closer like Jonathan Papelbon would likely cost the Tigers a top prospect like Nick Castellanos or Avisail Garcia, a situation Dave Dombrowski and Jim Leyland would like to avoid.

So what’s the deal?  What’s the risk?  What’s the opportunity cost?

Yes, opportunity cost.  The Tigers are considering not only the monetary costs of signing a top closer, but also things like the prospects in the farm system that they may have to part with, the longevity of a closer they may sign, and how many additional saves, and more importantly wins, they may be able to log in the books should they make a move.

The question is:  Is it worth it?

Honestly, I don’t know.  I’d love to be able to say yes.  My first thought is that Valverde has to go.  He’s given up 6 homeruns in his past 6 innings.  He’s blown 3 saves.  He cost Justin Verlander a win after pitching an absolute gem.  He was so bad in the playoffs last year that he had to be replaced during the postseason.

But ok, enough with the other stuff, what about the cash.  It is important, after all.  Though Mike Illich has largely opened the pocketbooks in an attempt to win his first championship as owner and the first for the decimated city of Detroit in 29 years, everyone has his limit.

Last year, the Tigers paid Jose Valverde roughly $9 Million.  Frustrating, yes, but from 2010 through 2012 Valverde saved 110 games in 118 chances.  It just doesn’t feel that way, and Tigers fans certainly didn’t see the caliber of pitcher suggested by such stats when it counted. Fair or not, closers don’t have the luxury of a lot of room for error, and the blown saves in big games are the ones fans, teammates, and management tend to remember.

This year, Jose has already blown 3 out of 12 save opportunities, good for a lowly 75% success rate.  He is, however, “only” being paid roughly $2 million for his superior display of mediocrity.  That’s a measly $28,000 per inning pitched, if you assume he’ll throw as much this season as he did last year.

But consider this: to sign a top-tier closer the Tigers would without a doubt pay a whole lot more – the opportunity cost is huge.  The big name on the list of potential acquisitions seems to be Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies.  Papelbon is currently making $13 Million per year.  Oh, and he’s under contract for that amount of money until at least the end of the 2015 season.

Obviously, the Phillies think pretty highly of the former Red Sox pitcher, so what would it take to get him?  Many say that it would take a top-tier prospect in the Tigers organization; a guy like Nick Castellanos or Avasail Garcia, both highly regarded assets of the Tigers franchise.  Detroit is not eager to trade either player, but Valverde just may be forcing its hand.

There is another option, which is to bring up 22 year old Bruce Rondon from AAA and give him a shot at locking down the job.  Rondon has been highly publicized, and for awhile it looks like he was going to get the call this year.  But it didn’t happen.  He struggled in spring training.  He wasn’t quite ready, the Tigers said.  And so they started off the season with a committee approach to closing games.  That proved to be unsuccessful, and for a little bit, it looked like Valverde was the piece needed to stabilize the bullpen.  And for a few minutes, he was.  But not anymore.

As much as I imagine the front office would love for Valverde to deliver return on investment, it’s beginning to seem less and less likely. He’s not getting the job done, and there is no hiding the closer or his performance.  There’s no eking out value. You can’t just bring him in for blowout situations.  You can’t stash him on the bench.  He’s out there, front and center, with the game on the line.  If he’s not, then the Tigers have no use for him. Yes, it’s one of the toughest gigs in sports, but, just like any other job, if you’re not performing, you’ve simply got to go.  Unfortunately, I think a bold move may be the only way to give the team the best opportunity to bring home a championship for Mr. Illitch and the city of Detroit.

Kelly Vaught is an entrepreneur, inventor, and founder of BallFrog Sports, AutoRepairKey.com, and ContractorKey LLC. Kelly loves business, technology, sports, animals, reading, learning, and the outdoors. Online, he can be found @kelly_vaught and on Google +.
  1. Tim Reply

    In my opinion the very fact that we are asking the question answers itself: Yes the Tigers need to go get a new closer. I would not rush Rondon up; they need to go make a trade or open their wallets. There. Problem solved! Anything else I can help you with? Cheers, Tim

  2. Kelly Vaught Reply

    Looks like it’s Benoit for now: http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/9411254/jose-valverde-designated-assignment-detroit-tigers.

    Albuquerque has been recalled from AAA Toledo. He’s got nasty stuff when he’s on, but he also walked a concerning 13 batters in 14 innings pitched while with the Mud Hens this year.

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