It remains to be seen whether the changes made to Bruce Rondon’s mechanics will bear fruit before the season begins. With the lack of a named closer, the Tigers are reportedly talking to other teams about getting one via trade.
Rick Porcello, whose name was linked to any and all Tiger trade rumors this offseason, has pitched well in his audition to win the fifth starter slot. The Tigers would probably offer Porcello again to any team that wants to make a deal that would see Detroit end up with an everyday closer.
The reality is—even if Porcello loses this audition to Drew Smyly—that the Tigers are not that deep with major league ready starting pitchers if one of their big four is injured.
Porcello and Smyly are both important insurance policies in case the worst happens. They are both capable of eating innings and winning games.
The Tigers have options on both these pitchers.
In the literal sense, both players can be sent down to Triple-A Toledo, as they have not pitched in the majors for five seasons. If Smyly loses the job, the Tigers could send him down and he could stay fresh down on the farm until needed.
They could also take the loser of the battle and stick that pitcher in long relief.
Even with this staff, there are going to be days where someone’s stuff is going to be off and they'll need a pitcher to go three to five innings.
On paper, having six starting pitchers seems like a luxury. When you see, however, that the Tigers used nine pitchers last year as starters, then six does not seem like enough.
If Rondon starts the year in Toledo—there is no real purpose of keeping him on the Tigers right now if he is not going to close—then instead of trading Porcello or a package of players for a closer and others, they should, instead, trust a couple of pitchers already on the roster.
Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke are penciled in to be the setup guys. That should not change. That is the perfect role for both.
If Rondon is not indeed the man, they should let Al Alburquerque and Octavio Dotel share the role until a determination is made if Rondon will close at all this year.
Dotel is 39.
Slated down to be a seventh-inning pitcher, he has not appeared more than 70 games in a season since 2008. He has, however, been used as a closer before.
As recently as 2010, Dotel saved 21 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He has 109 career saves and is the only guy on the roster who has been used as a closer.
He still strikes out more than one batter an inning and had a WHIP last year of 1.069.
If you need someone to get you through a couple of months as a closer a couple times a week, then why not give him a chance.
If Dotel was paired with Alburquerque, the Tigers would have a pair of hard-throwing right-handers who can get hitters out.
Alburquerque figures to be either the six through seventh-inning pitcher.
Coming off an injury, Alburquerque only pitched eight times in the regular season last year. But, he did throw five times in the postseason.
His slight frame and concern about injuries make Alburquerque an unlikely solo candidate to be closer. But, his numbers are similar to what they would get out of Rondon—if paired with Dotel, he would give the Tigers some breathing room as Rondon gets ready in Toledo.
In 56.2 major league innings, Alburquerque walked 37 batters and struck out 85. He also is very good at not allowing hitters to get hits. In that stretch, he didn't allow a home run and only surrendered 27 hits.
When you figure that with the rotation the Tigers have, most of the starters will go at least six innings per game—that does not leave a lot of work for either Dotel or Alburquerque.
This would also give the Tigers a couple of important options.
If Rondon can get it together, then great. They have the hole covered until he is ready and all things are go. If, on the other hand, Rondon does not get the call in 2013, then they can go with this pair for the season or, if necessary, make the trade for closer at that point.
The important thing for the Tigers is not to make a hasty decision.
By showing the trust in who they have, they can save their trade chips for later and, maybe, get an extra boost that they were not counting on before.