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Valverde closes the deal

John Stroba-Writer

1/15/10

Yesterday, the Tigers do sign Jose Valverde to a very reasonable 14 million/2 year contract with a 3rd year option for a reported $5 million. He will be their closer for 2010 and 2011 barring injuries. It is a very good move that will deepen the bullpen, because right now Joel Zumaya and Ryan Perry just are not ready to be the closer on the Tigers. Now, they can settle into setup man roles where if they struggle it is much easier to move them out of a setup man role than if either one of them would be the closer.

The reason for that is the media loves the "save" stat, it is easy to understand and their mistakes are very often fatal to their teams. So, naturally the questions begin about what is wrong with the closing situation. After a couple rough outings in a row, then the speculation (if the closer is not established) of who might be in next in the closer's role and how long the closer does have. That can be a real distraction around the team. Still, it is surprising to be hearing what the fans are complaining about this signing. It is a knee jerk reaction on their part for the most part.

1) The Tigers overpaid for him/lost the #19 draft pick in the first round.

Valverde is a lock down closer, and while he is a not an All Time great like a Mariano Rivera or a Trevor Hoffman he is a a very good closer. Now, I am usually wrong in terms of money about FAs, before the offseason I did think that Fernando Rodney was going to get something like 20 million/3 years. The economy (at least that is what the owners are saying) is forcing teams to spend more wisely (most of the time), so getting Valverde for something that I thought it would be Fernando Rodney money is great. Really quibbling that the Tigers spent a couple million more over the life of that contract is really an example of being penny-wise and pound foolish. The Tigers could not afford to have a couple youngsters with less than resumes take over the closer's role.

Not the least reason of which is Justin Verlander. Verlander is going to be a Free Agent after the 2011 season. The Tigers absolutely need Verlander to stay and sign a long term deal with them. He now becomes the face of this franchise, and the Tigers need to do everything to 1) make him want to stay here and 2) have enough money so they not only can sign him long term but have enough money left over to be a very competitive team. It is going to be a lot harder to sell Verlander on signing a long term deal with Detroit if the bullpen is blowing leads on a consistent basis, especially if that person is a closer. Is it really overpaying if signing Valverde means that Verlander is a much better bet to stay in the Old English D?

As far as giving up the #19 pick is the reason that the Tigers should not sign Valverde. Get real. In baseball, more than any other sport, the draft is an absolute crap shoot. Even if the Tigers would have gotten a hit with the #19 pick it is extremely unlikely that it would have been good enough to sway Verlander's thinking one way or another in the next two years. And let us be honest here the chances of that pick having as great an impact as Valverde is going to be have on the Tigers are very slim.

2) I thought the Tigers were having a fire sale, why deal Granderson and not offer Polanco arbitration then sign a closer?

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski never said that the Tigers were having a fire sale. When one considers that he was the man that was ordered to tear down the Marlins minutes after the 1997 World Series win, I would think that he would know. If the Tigers are going into fire sale mode, then the Tigers would have included a contract like Carlos Guillen into the trade. According to insiders, familiar with the deal before it went down, the Tigers never did try to do that. Now, Detroit is saying (as they should) that if the right deal comes around they would listen. The biggest thing that the Tigers do get out of this deal is that all 4 players have a combined 22 years that before the Tigers have to worry about Free Agency. The Tigers do get very nice young talent out of that trade.

Polanco is really a borderline case. Indications are that his FA suitor (Philadelphia) would not have been interested in him if the Tigers offer arbitration to him. With a young second basemen (Sizemore) ready to take over the position, it is an opportunity for the Tigers to get young and more athletic (one of their main goals) while saving some money. And the other question is would Polanco have been the second-half Polanco or the first-half? Sizemore is not going to be as good a defender as Polanco (though despite his Gold Glove Polanco's range did lose a step last year), he is going to be a very good hitter for them with an idea of the strike zone (something of a rarity among Tiger prospects). Something to consider as well, that if the Tigers did offer arbitration and Polanco does accept then the Valverde signing seems much more unlikely.

3) Anyone can get saves, give Zumaya or Perry a chance

It is true that the save stat is very broad and not a great measure of how good a closer really is. Way too much money, in my humble opinion, is tied into the save category. However, late inning losses are devastating to a club. While anyone can get saves, and a team does not always need a "proven" closer, it does help for the team to have a guy that does have a good resume if a closer. For example, if a team does have a setup man that is ready to take over the closer's role it is a lot easier to let the established closer go.

Joel Zumaya in save situations, in his career, is 3-7 4svs 4.04 ERA with a 1.449 WHIP in 73 games covering 89 innings. Those are some heartburn numbers right there. Zumaya does not have the control to be a closer either. His K/BB ratio in those situations is under 2 and that is not acceptable.

Ryan Perry does have under a year of experience in the majors. On the plus side like Zumaya he does want the ball in that time of the game, but he just does have enough on his resume to be a closer just yet. That could change in the next year, but it does not make sense to gamble on him to begin the season. Now, Perry can develop that resume so maybe in 2011 he can start making the case he can be that guy.

4) Why did the Tigers sign Valverde when they have a bunch RPs they drafted over the last couple of years.

Yes, the Tigers do have a bunch of RPs arms that are in the minors and just now poking their heads into Detroit. Ryan Perry the headliner of the 2008 Tigers draft appears to have a setup role all but locked up heading into Spring Training. Fu Te-Ni, an Asian import, looks to be ready to take over the #1 lefty role in the pen and I have heard some fans suggest that he is a closer candidate down the line.

Cody Satterwhite and Robbie Weinhardt are also 2008 Tigers Draft alums and this year they will get to pitch in the upper minors, and it is not beyond the realm of possibility that with very good springs they could make the Tigers going north. However, that is a rather long shot.

Daniel Schlereth is another possibility, the first round draft pick in 2008 for Arizona, comes over the Edwin Jackson part of the 3 way deal. A lefty he could be the rare power lefty closer, his stuff is that good. He does need some work on his control, but Schlereth is a very aggressive pitcher a very good trait in a RP. A solid possibility remains that he might start the year in Toledo though.

What is the common theme in the Tigers bullpen this year? It is a very very young pen. And there is a good chance some parts of it will be in flux all year long. Having an established closer is a big deal to a young pen, because it allows some role definition to happen. Valverde really lengthens the bullpen just another reason he is a very good signing.


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