The Tigers ate some crow on Thursday and signed former closer Jose Valverde to a minor league deal, most likely putting an eventual ending to the brief “closer by committee” experiment one day after Phil Coke blew a save and cost the team a win. He will not be installed in the back of the bullpen right away; rather he will tune up in the minor leagues. If he is not up with the club by May 5, he will become a free agent again.
Even as the team’s young closer-in-waiting Bruce Rondon struggled during spring training, the Tigers insisted they would not entertain the idea of re-signing Valverde. Valverde was the team’s effective closer for most of 2012, but struggled late in the year and was displaced for the post season.
Manager Jim Leyland opted to try the committee approach entering the season; in theory, splitting save opportunities among Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Al Albuquerque and Octavio Dotel. Benoit has set-up nicely for Coke on two occasions early in the season, but Coke, who has struggled mightily against right handed hitting, surrendered a two-run double to Eduardo Escobar to give the Twins a 3-2 win on Wednesday.
The 35-year-old Valverde earned 35 saves for the Tigers in 2012, pitching to a 3.78 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. But in September last year, his 5.40 ERA, 1.50 WHIP and sudden shaky control made Leyland nervous. Overall, his ground ball percentage fell to 34 percent (was 55 and 43 percent in 2010 and 2011), and he struck out only 6.3 per 9 innings, a considerable drop from an average of 9 K/9 in recent seasons.
Fantasy owners who need saves and have room to stash Valverde on their bench should go immediately to the waiver wire to grab him. But he remains a “wait-and-see” option and, if he makes the club, a low-level closer at best. He can be a good source of saves but considering none of the 30 teams took a chance on him this off-season, owners should be wary of his performance.
His signing threatens to eliminate any and all Fantasy value of Coke, Benoit, Dotel and Albuquerque. The committee should continue until and if Valverde gets into game shape and we suspect Albuquerque will become a solid set-up option, if not a threat to take over the closer role at some point this season.