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Value in Valverde?

John Stroba- Writer


The Tigers insist that they are happy with the closing possibilities in house this year even with Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon leaving for greener pastures. Neither Joel Zumaya nor Ryan Perry as a closer is not something that Tigers should be super confident in. Zumaya and Perry just have not done enough to earn the closer's job. Zumaya is not very good in save chances converting under 20% of them in his career. Perry does have an excellent arm, but his control is lacking at times. Detroit fans would complain about Rodney being wild, but these two are much wilder than Rodney.

So a good case can be made that the Tigers do need a closer in addition to another left handed hitter (a need that is more acute with Granderson dealt). There is a very solid proven closer out there that would fit the Tigers vacancy and allow them to develop their plethora of RP arms in the minors that are close to being ready. Of course, in the short term signing this guy is going to cost the Tigers their first round pick, leaving them with only the two supplemental picks from Lyon (Astros) and Rodney (Angels) signing with other teams. Would the Tigers pay that price plus several years at a top salary (Valverde wants $8 million doubtful in this market)? That is the million dollar question. Should they pay that price? Yes, under certain conditions.

Those conditions are pretty easy to spot. The first one is that the Tigers need to think that they can contend in the AL Central next year. That pretty much seems like a given, because the White Sox and Minnesota do remain flawed ballclubs. There are no indications that the Tigers think they are not going to be a contending club this year and one thing that a contending club does need is a closer. Now, Detroit might think they have some closing candidates in house but even Mariano Rivera served an apprenticeship as a setup man first before the Yankees let their closer John Wetteland go. So in the ideal world Perry, Zumaya or whoever is in house would get a couple year or even a year of good to very good work as a setup man getting the saves that Valverde would not get. As many of us, especially in Michigan these days, it is not an ideal world.

This is not going to be a team that is going to be scoring many runs this year (at least on paper it does not look so). The games are going to be close so there are going to be a lot save opportunities, and coughing up those leads in the late innings are going to even more devastating. Signing a guy like Valverde would make the Tigers a lot deeper in the pen. Now, instead of Zumaya and Perry having to be the closer(s) they are the setup men with a nice couple of lefties in Ni and Seay. Add in a guy like Miner or someone like that and the pen gets a lot deeper.

The next important question is Valverde worth giving a 3 year contract to? Dombrowski is reluctant to go more than 4 years on a pitcher, and he does not like to give long term contracts to RPs. In his tenure, at Detroit, he does not give a contract for more than 2 years (Percival and Rodney). I could see him going 2 years with some sort of an option for a 3rd year though. If he does that though, is Valverde worth that? In the last 3 years(Arizona and last 2 in Houston) Valverde has gone 11-9 116 saves with a 2.84 ERA 1.25 WHIP along with 70bb/217k in 190.1 ip. Those are dominant numbers out of a closer. In 2007 and 2008 he did lead the National League in saves. He is entering his age 30 season, so signing him for 3 years takes the Tigers through his age 32 season. Barring injuries, Valverde should be one of the most productive closers in the next 3 seasons.

Valverde just hanging out there could be another example of the Tigers signing an impact player late in the offseason. Starting with the 2003 offseason these are the impact players that Dombrowski has acquired in January or later.

Jan 2004: Traded for Carlos Guillen

Feb 2004: Signed Pudge Rodriguez

Feb 2005: Signed Magglio Ordonez

Feb 2008: Traded for Armando Galarraga

Jan 2009: Signed Brandon Lyon

History says that Dombrowski will make a deal whether that is a FA or trading for a player that will make an impact on the team. Among the guys out there, very few would have the impact on the team that Valverde as a dominant closer would have. Everyone in the bullpen bumps down a notch or two. It becomes much deeper. With a good starting rotation, very good defense and a dominant closer the Tigers can seriously contend for the division title this year.

Now, I can hear a lot of people screaming right now about giving up a first rounder in the upcoming draft to sign Valverde. And it is true that the Tigers would be giving up a first rounder in order to sign Valverde. The Tigers would still have two supplemental picks before the second round starts and there is not reason that they could not go over slot and get some quality players at those positions. For one minute, let us play out the possibility that the Tigers do ahve quality closing candidates ready to take over for Valverde in 3 years (assuming he signs with Detroit). That would be an ideal world, because then the Tigers could let Valverde go and get a first rounder and a supplemental pick in return along with their own first rounder. That money could then be used elsewhere.

All in all, it does seem very likely that Jose Valverde is going to be the Tigers closer next year and beyond.


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