Sunday, October 28, 2012

Who Closes for the Detroit Tigers in 2013?

By Sean Gagnier

The World Series is over and congratulations are in order to the San Fransisco Giants. Their pitching staff dominated the Detroit Tigers all series.

As the depression of being swept out of the fall classic subsides, the Tigers will have to look at themselves and see where they need improvement. And anyone with eyes can see that the biggest area in need of improvement is the closers role.

Jose Valverde may have been perfect in 2011, but he was anything but that in 2012. And in the 2012 postseason, he was the epitome of worthless. He was so bad that Manager Jim Leyland turned to lefty-specialist Phil Coke to serve as his inpromptu-closer for the length of the postseason.

Valverde has without a doubt seen his last game in a Tigers uniform, but while his departure will certainly come as a relief to many Tigers fans, it also leaves a void at the back end of the Detroit bullpen. Who should fill it? There are several in-house options to consider as well as a free agent and one on the trade market, here they are.

Free Agents

Rafael Soriano - New York Yankees, signed through 2013 (3yrs/$35M)
  • 67.2 IP / 2.26 ERA / 42 SV / 1.167 WHIP / 9.2 SO/9
  • While Soriano may not be a free agent quite yet, all indications are that he will opt out of the final year of his contract with the Yankees and will test the free agent market. And that market could become very lucrative for him.
  • After the season ending injury to Mariano Rivera it was up to Soriano to take over the closers role, and he did an exceptional job. His 42 saves are the second most of his career and his WHIP among the best in the league
  • Upside: Soriano is an elite caliber closer who could come in and immediately have an impact for the Tigers.
  • Downside: He will cost a pretty penny. Soriano isn't opting out of the final year of a $35M deal to get less money and with the Yankees competing with several other teams for his services, his contract will certainly balloon out of the Tigers price range. 

Trade Market

Chris Perez - Cleveland Indians, signed through 2015 (arbitration eligible, $4.5M)
  • 57.2 IP / 3.59 ERA / 39 SV / 1.127 WHIP / 9.2 SO/9
  • Cleveland is starting a new era under Manager Terry Francona, and Perez showed that he was one of the most outspoken and driven members of last season's Indians club. However, Cleveland has it's eyes on their closer of the future in Vinnie Pestano. While Perez gives the Indians passion and energy, he could also bring them solid prospects in return.
  • The Indians like Perez, the only way they part ways with him is if they believe Pestano is ready to take over the mantle of being the closer. And that has yet to be seen.
  • Upside: Perez would bring a fire and passion to the Tigers that has appeared to be missing since the loss of Victor Martinez. He is unconventional, but his style of pitching would fit well in the cavern that is Comerica Park.
  • Downside: Pestano doesn't appear to be ready to become the closer just yet, but if the Indians do decide to go with him, they will want quite a bit in return for Perez and they would be insane to trade him within the division.

Phil Coke - Detroit Tigers, signed through 2015 (arbitration eligible, $1.1M)
  • 54 IP / 4.00 ERA / 1 SV / 1.648 WHIP / 8.5 SO/9
  • Coke was not the picture of consistency during the regular season, but when Valverde imploded in the postseason, Leyland turned to Coke and he delivered. In his 10 innings pitched in the 2012 postseason, Coke allowed just one run.
  • Upside: Coke being a lefty, would be something different than most closers. He has shown that when the pressure is on him he is capable of producing and giving maximum effort. The guy sprints to the mound from the bullpen every single time his name is called and he refuses to give less than 100 percent, that's something you look for in a closer.
  • Downside: The postseason is one thing, the pressure and adrenaline could have helped him, but it remains to be seen if he can take his playoff success and translate it into regular season consistency. If Coke pitches the way he did during the regular season then he is not closer material, but if the Tigers get the postseason Coke, then they would have found themselves something special.
Al Alburquerque - Detroit Tigers, signed through 2017, $495K
  • 13.1 IP / 0.68 ERA / 0 SV / 1.050 WHIP / 12.2 SO/9
  • Alburquerque possesses a devastating slider and a decent fastball to keep batters honest, but he has yet to complete a complete season after two injuries cut his 2011 and 2012 short. In 2011, Alburquerque was struck in the back of the head by a fly ball during batting practice and missed the final several months of the season. In 2012, he suffered a knee injury and was unable to return to action until late in the year.
  • When healthy and on, Alburquerque is close to unhittable. However, his durability has to come into question as well as his relative inexperience. But if Alburquerque is capable of producing the same way he did to close out the season this year, next season, then he could be a very interesting candidate.
  • Upside: His pitches have great movement and he doesn't appear to be phased with runners on base. Detroit has Alburquerque signed long term, meaning that if he does have what it takes to close games, the Tigers could use the money they save on him for other pieces.
  • Downside: Alburquerque has yet to complete a season and is for all intents and purposes still a rookie. Handing the ball to someone as inexperienced as Alburquerque could prove costly to the Tigers if he isn't entirely ready for the pressure of the closers role.
Bruce Rondon - Toledo Mud Hens, Triple-A
  •  (A+, AA, AAA) 53.0 IP / 1.53 ERA / 29 SV / 1.094 WHIP / 11.2 SO/9
  • From scouting reports and other outlets it is apparent that Rondon possesses an impressive fastball, upper-nineties, and several decent off-speed pitches. Rondon was good enough in 2012 to progress from High-A Lakeland to Double-A Erie and on to Triple-A Toledo all while serving as the closer.
  • Upside: Rondon has a devastating fastball that could overpower many major league hitters, and being an unknown rookie could benefit him against batters who have not yet seen him. If he can improve his change-up, Rondon could be a very good closer for years to come.
  • Downside: Much like Alburquerque, Rondon being a rookie is dangerous for the Tigers. His inexperience and complete lack of time in the major leagues could lead to him playing a role in the bullpen in 2013, but keep him from assuming the closers role for several years.

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