The closing situation for the Detroit Tigers has become an absolute mess in the span of just one week. Rewind 7 days ago and Bruce Rondon was basically still the guy. Today, things are clouded. How cloudy you ask? So dense that even Carlos Marmol’s name has popped up in trade rumors.
My fingers could barely type that. If Carlos Marmol is acquired by the Tigers then I think we’ll all be forced to resign our fan cards. What you don’t do to solve a problem is simply pay more for the exact same problem.
After you’ve had a few minutes to recover from the shakes after reading that rollercoaster of a list, consider that Marmol is probably an even worse offender than any of those three. He is the very definition of wild. He was so bad at times last year that he got removed from the gig while playing for the Cubs – the very same Cubs who had the 2nd worst record in baseball in 2012.
So let’s assume for the sake of pure sanity that Marmol isn’t happening. What next? Do the Tigers look internally for a fix or do they seek a trade?
MLB sources have confirmed that the Tigers are kicking tires to see what they can find. And while they’re doing this, most of the experts are snickering on their Twitter accounts that the Tigers should’ve done what they were suggesting all along, which was to add a high profile closer via free agency.
Detroit didn’t. Instead, they believed that Rondon would be able to pull the trick in a Craig Kimbrel sort of way. This week, Rondon has been working his mechanics on the side with Jeff Jones and is scheduled to pitch again on Friday. If he strikes out the side will all be well in Tiger Town? Probably not. He would need to rattle off a string of solid outings to erase the memory of his last two. But even then will the Tigers trust him for 6 months plus a postseason? That’s a tough request as everyone’s faith in Rondon has been tested by what they’ve seen so far.
But again, is it fair to expect him to be lights out mechanically in late February/early March? No. Nobody freaked out when Doug Fister got touched up but his track record backs up his in-season ability. Rondon doesn’t have that major league resume to fall back on.
Closers that are potentially available certainly don’t comprise a who’s who of stellar options. Valverde is one name. Detroit has thankfully rejected that notion. We’ve already discussed Marmol. Andrew Bailey has been mentioned but can never stay healthy. Francisco Rodriguez is also out of work, but for good reason. It’s a bad list.
Detroit has a bullpen full of guys who could close. It’s essentially a group full of setup-style pitchers. Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel are veterans that Jim Leyland absolutely wants to keep in their comfort zones. Phil Coke, Brayan Villarreal, and Al Alburquerque are others names to consider.
The two that have been bantered about most consistently in the past few days have probably been Coke and Rick Porcello. The 24-year old Porcello has pitched so well this spring that Detroit might look foolish trying to move him via trade only to watch him step into his potential while wearing another uniform. Leyland has said that it is “highly unlikely” that Porcello will close. But that doesn’t mean it’s off the table.
Regarding Coke, what short memories some people have. Admittedly, Coke was brilliant in the playoffs last year but have you all forgotten his regular season performance? He had a 4.00 ERA and ghastly 1.65 WHIP. Righties hit .396 against him in 2012 and he only held lefties to a .263 mark. To me, Coke is far too erratic to be trusted in a consistent role as a closer.
In my opinion, only two good options exist right now – Porcello or Alburquerque.
I have mentioned this several times recently but to move Porcello to the bullpen in any role other than closer would be a huge disappointment to him and a potentially damaging assignment for his career path. But I do think he can close, especially if that curveball I saw on Monday wasn’t a mirage.
Porcello has notoriously been a good pitcher the first time through a batting order, which is a great trait for a reliever to possess. He could also dial up his fastball to 95-96 in a 1-inning stint. It’s possible, and if they give the 5th starter spot to Drew Smyly, then it might even become likely.
Despite Porcello’s potential, I think Alburquerque should get a legitimate look. Detroit consistently questions his durability as he has had injuries both at the minor league level and dealt with an elbow issue that kept him out much of last year.
In parts of two seasons that basically add up to one full season worth of major league service time, Alburquerque has pitched 56.2 innings and struck out 85 hitters for an insane 13.5 K/9 inning rate. 9-11 K’s/9 is considered elite. He’s at 13.5. Lifetime, opponents are hitting just .140 off of him. Much like Rondon and Marmol, walks have been his one consistent flaw.
The Tigers talked themselves out of that issue in regards to it plaguing Rondon. I’m not sure the same argument isn’t even more compelling with Senor Slider. What’s the best way to mask a high walk rate? Strikeouts and not allowing hits. Nobody on Detroit’s roster does that better than Al. On top of all of that, he has a bit of a cocky streak, which is one tool most great closers have in their bag.
The urgency to trade for a closer right now completely eludes me. Give Alburquerque first crack at it. If he fails or gets hurt, which I don’t think he will, then make a move. Why make a rash decision now and trade for a low grade closer who doesn’t have an elite arsenal like Alburquerque does? Give the guy a chance.
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