Detroit Tigers Closer Options Now That Rafael Soriano Is off the Market
When free agent closer Rafael Soriano signed with the Washington Nationals on January 17th, I was relieved that the Detroit Tigers wouldn't be signing him.
I always felt that Soriano would be too expensive in terms of the draft pick that the Tigers would need to sacrifice to the New York Yankees in addition to the amount of money it would require to sign him.
With Soriano off the market, I believe that the Tigers must still address their closer situation instead of going into the regular season with a rookie who has never pitched in the major leagues. That being said, there are several candidates that have the potential to close for the Tigers—including a few in-house options.
Bruce Rondon, Detroit Tigers
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Bruce Rondon is the heavy favorite to be the Detroit Tigers closer once the regular season starts, but it's a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old pitcher who has never faced major league batters.
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has already gone on record saying that Rondon is a "rare talent" and the Tigers think he's ready. While Rondon is absolutely talented, it's a huge leap of faith to assume he can become the closer immediately.
I strongly believe that Rondon should transition to closer slowly. A smart idea would be for him to begin as the setup man and then once he's proven himself and gained confidence, he could then take over the closer role as the season progresses.
Phil Coke, Detroit Tigers
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Phil Coke would be a great short-term option as closer for the Detroit Tigers. Coke has experience closing since he took over the closer role in the ALCS against the New York Yankees when the previous closer, Jose Valverde self-destructed. While Coke didn't have a proven track record as a closer he showed that he was definitely up to the task.
Coke came in during the ALCS and calmed the fan base by recording two saves. Throughout the 2012 postseason, he had a 0.84 ERA to go along with a 0.75 WHIP. Coke's terrific postseason supports the fact that he could handle the closer duties during the regular season and wouldn't let the pressure get to him.
While I still believe that Coke would fit best in middle relief, if the Tigers wanted to ease Bruce Rondon into the closer role then Coke would be the perfect guy to keep the seat warm while Rondon gets adjusted to the majors.
Al Alburquerque, Detroit Tigers
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Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Al Alburquerque has the talent to become a full-time closer. The question is, would he stay healthy?
Alburquerque came under fire during the ALDS playoffs against the Oakland A's when he kissed the ball before throwing it to first base. Outside of the kissing-the-ball issue, Alburquerque is what you want to see in a shutdown closer.
Alburquerque has a career 1.59 ERA and a ridiculous 13.50 K/9 ratio to go along with an opposing batting average of .140. With those numbers he could be a consistent All-Star, but can the Tigers rely on him?
Alburquerque has had elbow problems in the past and with his throwing motion, I believe it could be a continual problem. It would be tough to count on Alburquerque for an extended period of time, but perhaps if he changes his style, the Tigers could have a lights-out closer who has already experienced success in the major leagues.
Brian Wilson, Free Agent
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Brian Wilson has experienced success in both the regular season and postseason as a closer, and would be able to be signed to a low-risk contract.
The issue is that Wilson is coming off his second Tommy Johns surgery and recent reports don't paint the best picture. On top of that, the San Francisco Giants' GM Brian Sabean has come out and spoken about Wilson saying that the Giants probably won't re-sign him.
While Wilson may need time to recover and could be the Tigers' closer by midseason, it is a gamble when Wilson's old team admits to having questions about his ability to close.
Regardless, Wilson could be signed to a deal with the understanding that he could take his time to become fully healthy, and then be ready for the end of the season and potentially the postseason. Either way, Wilson is probably the best outside option that would fit with the Tigers.
Drew Storen, Washington Nationals
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Drew Storen is a young closer who has already proven himself with the Washington Nationals. He's 25 years old and has already saved 52 games in his three major league seasons. Storen saved 43 games in 2011 and would have been the full-time closer last year but was injured for the first half of the season and lost his job to Tyler Clippard.
Storen could be available because he had a rough postseason where he allowed four runs in the ninth inning of the deciding fifth game against the St. Louis Cardinals, which caused the Nationals to be eliminated.
After the game, Storen had to endure death threats on Twitter, but showed his maturity by handling the loss in a classy way. With the Nationals signing Rafael Soriano to take over as closer, Storen might be available via trade even though the Nationals aren't saying that.
The Detroit Tigers would be a great fit for Storen, as he has big league closer experience and Detroit would be able to provide him a clean start where he could close again. Storen wouldn't come cheap, but he's young enough where the Tigers could turn around and trade him in the future if Bruce Rondon does develop.
I believe that Storen is still getting better as a pitcher, and the Tigers need to do their due diligence in calling the Nationals to inquire about him.
Jose Valverde, Free Agent
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This is the name that I believe 99% of Detroit Tigers fans hope to never hear about again.
I agree that manager Jim Leyland stuck with Valverde way too long in the playoffs, and should have made a change at closer a lot earlier. But the guy did still have 49 saves in 2011 and 35 saves last year.
While, I definitely wouldn't sign Valverde to a guaranteed contract, the Tigers should offer him a minor league deal instead and see if he accepts.
Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski already went on record and said that Valverde would not be re-signed, but I am in favor of letting him work out his mechanical issues in Triple-A and seeing if he can start getting outs again.
As long as Valverde is still on the free agent market, he could be a very reasonable backup choice who might regain his confidence.
Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers
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By making Porcello the closer, it could solve a lot of issues for the Tigers. It would allow Smyly to be in the starting rotation and allow Porcello to remain with the team, filling the closer position.
One of the Tigers' issues with Porcello is that he hasn't developed a solid breaking ball that would help him as a starter. If Porcello is in the closer role, he would need less pitches and could rely on his fastball and sinker the majority of the time, leading to better success.
I'm not saying a Porcello experiment as a closer would work, but it would benefit all parties if the team gave it a shot.
Who do you want as the Detroit Tigers closer?